Extending social protection to migrant workers in the Arab region would benefit workers and economies alike

Worker, government and employer representatives explored regional perspectives on extending social protection to migrant workers in the Middle East and Northern Africa, at an ILO side event at the 49th Arab Labour Conference in Cairo.

Press release | 07 June 2023
BEIRUT (ILO News) - The ILO Regional Office for Arab states held an information session in the margins of the 49th Arab Labour Conference in Cairo, Egypt to share experiences and best practices in extending social protection to migrant workers in the Arab region, and to explore avenues of social security coordination.

The event outlined how migrant workers - including Arab migrant workers - contribute extensively to the development of the region through their labour and remittances. Yet national social insurance systems in the region generally exclude migrant workers by law and in practice, causing most of them to face numerous challenges in accessing social protection benefits including healthcare and pensions.

The lack of social protection not only affects the well-being of migrant workers but also creates social and economic vulnerabilities for their families and communities in countries of origin. This was made particularly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic amplified the importance of extending social protection to migrant workers, given the benefits to individuals and their families, communities, business and societies. There is now widespread acceptance that comprehensive social protection systems serve as social and economic stabilizers that support recovery and build resilience in case of future crises,” said ILO Deputy Regional Director Peter Rademaker at the event.

“Many countries in the MENA region are implementing reforms to extend social protection to migrant workers. Offering such protection benefits migrant workers themselves but also their employers in terms of risk-sharing and higher productivity and retention. ILO wants to promote learning across the countries in the Arab Region and support the rolling out of bilateral or multilateral agreements involving both sending and receiving countries” Rademaker added.

ILO Deputy Regional Director Peter Rademaker
ILO Senior Social Protection Specialist for Arab States Luca Pellerano presented the findings of a recent ILO report “Extending social protection to migrant workers in the Arab region: an analysis of existing barriers and successful practices in light of international social security standards.” The study was produced by the ILO project “Extending Social Protection to Migrant Workers: Exploratory Research and Policy Dialogue in the GCC Countries,” funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The paper explores the challenges, best practices, and successful regional experiences in extending social protection to all workers in line with International Labour Standards. 

Pellerano explained the relevance and importance of adopting a regional perspective to extending social protection to migrant workers in the Arab region. He said positive experiences with regional social security agreements in Europe, Latin America and the GCC show that regional coordination can be an effective tool for expanding social protection coverage for migrant workers moving within the region.

“Ongoing reforms of employer-sponsored social protection approaches in the GCC will open new opportunities to extend the right to social protection to migrant workers in the Arab region. Multilateral social security agreements can promote cross-border social security coverage and maintain workers’ rights and benefits payments while abroad. They contribute to more comprehensive and sustainable social protection systems to the benefit of migrant workers, countries of origin and countries of destination,” Pellerano added.

Discussions at the event were led by a panel comprised of government, workers and employers representatives, who highlighted recent social security reforms including measures adopted to extend coverage to migrant workers in the Arab region.

Vice President of Egypt’s National Social Security Authority Sami Abdel Hadi stressed the need for further efforts and cooperation to enhance social protection for migrants in the Arab region. He also encouraged countries hosting Arab workers to ratify international agreements in this regard. “Egypt is committed to providing social protection for foreign workers in Egypt without the need to conclude any international agreements requiring reciprocity” Mr. Hadi said, adding that the National Social Security Authority has introduced a voluntary insurance system for Egyptian workers abroad under the Social Insurance and Pensions Law No. 148 of 2019.

Member of the Board of Directors of the Bahrain Chamber and ILO Governing Body member Sonia Janahi informed the meeting that the government of Bahrain has recently introduced Law No. (14) of 2022, which amends several provisions of the social insurance program including revising the payment method of the end-of-service benefits for non-nationals. “Employers will be required to deposit the funds necessary to fund the employer-paid end-of-service gratuity into the Social Insurance Organization. This will ensure that all employees in the private service have guaranteed end-of-service gratuity.” Ms Janahi said.

Labour Affairs Director of the GCC Labour Ministries Council Khalil Buhazaa noted that Gulf countries, through the Executive Office of the Council of Labour Ministers, and with technical assistance from the International Labor Organization, are developing solutions to reform end-of-service indemnities for expatriate workers, with important developments in several countries in the region. “The Covid-19 phase, in addition to other factors, constituted a strong impetus for the GCC countries to strengthen their social protection systems. The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council seek to enhance indicators of competitiveness and attract foreign investments, The development of social protection for all is one of the pillars of decent work that the countries of the region seek to strengthen.” Buhazaa said.

Mr. Ashraf Al-A'war, General Secretary of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions stressed on the need to recognize social protection rights for all migrant workers, including daily, seasonal and cross-border workers. He highlighted the contribution of comprehensive and adequate social protection system to social justice and social cohesion.

The Director General of the Iraq’s Department of Pensions and Social Security for Workers Taha Yasin highlighted that the new social security law enacted in Iraq adopts the minimum international standards for social security in accordance with Convention No. 102 of 1952 which Iraq ratified in mid-March of this year. ILO Convention No. 102 establishes principles of equality of treatment and non-discrimination between national and migrant workers in accessing social security rights.