A joint study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Africa has discovered that the majority of workers in informal employment in countries across sub-Saharan Africa do not have any form of social protection for healthcare, injury on duty, or pension for when they stop working.

In a joint presentation titled “Informality and social protection in African countries: A forward-looking assessment of contributory schemes” tabled to the Southern African Development Community (Sadc)-Parliamentary Forum’s Women Caucus, the UNDP and ILO recommended that Sadc countries consider extending social protection to informal workers.

“It is very clear that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of informal workers. They form a big part of the population that live in poverty. Their situation has been worsened due to their limited means to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Ms Denise Monteiro an ILO technical officer based in Luanda.

She also advised countries to conduct studies looking at workers’ willingness to contribute to the social security system before designing any strategies. “Any social protection scheme must be adapted to the specific needs and situations of the workers in order to have an impact,” said Ms Monteiro.

The study also recommended that countries should consider enacting laws and policies to establish an enabling environment to ensure social protection coverage for previously uncovered workers.

Mr Lourenco Mancini, an economist from the UNDP, told the women’s caucus that the joint study has highlighted the “missing middle” – those that are considered not fit for social assistance, but are vulnerable. “There is a need to increase the minimum standards for social security. Countries must consider extension of social protection to informal workers to make sure no one is left behind.

“Social dialogue is key. Policies and strategies must be designed considering the needs and wishes of the groups you want to reach. Only in this way can we achieve greater adherence to social security systems,” Mr Mancini said.

Other recommendations include a simplified social protection regime with lower transaction costs for self-employed workers and rethinking contributions, complimentary with the non-contributory social security system, focusing special attention on women. Countries such as Kenya, Rwanda and Tunisia have already introduced social protection for workers in the informal sector and SADC countries can learn from those models.

Ms Tsepang Ts’ita-Mosena, a parliamentarian from Lesotho and member of the Sadc-PF Women’s Caucus, said informal workers, the majority of whom are women, are the biggest contributors to the economies of their countries, but lack dignity or legal rights. “The informal economic activities often fall through the cracks of most surveys on employment. We have a lot of work to do to make sure that the workers in informal employment are also covered in social protection programmes of their respective countries,” she said.

Sakhile Mokoena
20 October 2021