The ILO actively promotes policies and provides assistance to countries to help extend adequate levels of social protection to all members of society. Social security involves access to healthcare and income security, particularly in cases of old age, unemployment, sickness, invalidity, work injury, maternity or loss of a main income earner.
Today in most Arab states, social security schemes tend to focus on the provision of pensions while other risks, such as unemployment, maternity or sickness are not or only partly covered. Some pension insurance schemes face challenges in terms of effectiveness, equity, sustainability and governance, while large portions of the population remain out of the scope of coverage. Most social insurance systems cater to public and formal private sector workers with long-term contracts, excluding other categories of workers. High rates of informality, low female labour market participation rates and high levels of unemployment further contribute to low coverage.
Another concern is access to affordable quality healthcare for the population. Non-contributory social security schemes, such as social assistance schemes, tend to be fragmented and weakly coordinated with contributory schemes.
Pensions, unemployment protection and maternity protection are three important policy areas in the Arab region. The ILO has assisted Bahrain to develop an unemployment insurance scheme and is working with other Arab states to develop similar schemes.
Jordan, in 2010, adopted a maternity insurance scheme proposed by the ILO that shifted the responsibility for funding women’s salaries during their maternity leave from individual employers to social insurance. In Jordan, the ILO is also working on pension reform and the development of a national Social Protection Floor. The ILO has supported Saudi Arabia with a financial assessment and the drafting of new legislation to assist the unemployed. In addition to supporting pension reform, an ILO review addressed the introduction of universal healthcare in Lebanon through a study of policy options, a survey of Lebanese households, and a comprehensive report presenting a costing study for the consideration of the tripartite partners. In Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, the ILO collected, produced and published internationally comparable data through the ILO’s Social Security Inquiry.
The Social Protection FloorThe Social Protection Floor (SPF) is a global social policy concept that promotes nationally defined strategies for the provision of a minimum level of access to essential services and income security for all. The concept was, in 2009, established to cover access to essential services such as water and sanitation, health, education and income security. It was endorsed by the UN System, which charged the ILO and the World Health Organization as lead agencies for the promotion of the Social Protection Floor.
Following the introduction of the SPF, the ILO Regional Office for the Arab states presented the challenges to building adequate social protection systems in the region at the Arab Employment Forum. There is a growing recognition that the yields of economic growth need to be distributed in a more effective and equitable way in order to foster broad-based and sustainable economic and social development, and that more effective protection from poverty is indispensable. The uprisings of 2011 have been partially attributed to a perception of social injustice. Social security programmes must be developed to contribute to enhancing income security, education and health outcomes, just as they have done in other countries.