International Labour Standards on Social security

A society that provides security for its citizens protects them not only from war and disease, but also from the insecurities related to making a living through work. Social security systems provide for basic income in cases of unemployment, illness and injury, old age and retirement, invalidity, family responsibilities such as pregnancy and childcare, and loss of the family breadwinner. Such benefits are important not only for individual workers and their families but also for their communities as a whole. By providing health care, income security and social services, social security enhances productivity and contributes to the dignity and full realization of the individual. Social security systems also promote gender equality through the adoption of measures to ensure that women who have children enjoy equal opportunities in the labour market. For employers and enterprises, social security helps maintain a stable workforce adaptable to change. Finally, by providing a safety net in case of economic crisis, social security serves as a fundamental element of social cohesion, thereby helping to ensure social peace and a positive engagement with globalization and economic development. Despite these advantages, only 20% of the world's population have adequate social security coverage, while more than half lack any kind of social security coverage at all.

ILO standards on social security provide for different types of social security coverage under different economic systems and stages of development. Social security Conventions offer a wide range of options and flexibility clauses which allow the goal of universal coverage to be reached gradually. In a globalizing world, where people are increasingly exposed to global economic risks, there is growing consciousness of the fact that a broad-based national social protection policy can provide a strong buffer against many of the negative social effects of crises. For these reasons, in 2012, the International Labour Conference adopted an important new instrument, the Social Protection Floors Recommendation (No. 202).

Selected relevant ILO instruments

  • Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102) - [ratifications]
    Lays down the minimum standard for the level of social security benefits and the conditions under which they are granted. It covers the nine principal branches of social security, namely medical care, sickness, unemployment, old age, employment injury, family, maternity, invalidity and survivors' benefits. To ensure that it could be applied in all national circumstances, the convention offers states the possibility of ratification by accepting at least three of its nine branches and of subsequently accepting obligations under other branches, thereby allowing them to progressively attain all the objectives set out in the convention. The level of minimum benefits can be determined with reference to the level of wages in the country concerned. Temporary exceptions may also be envisaged for countries whose economy and medical facilities are insufficiently developed, thereby enabling them to restrict the scope of the convention and the coverage of the benefits granted.
  • Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202)
    This instrument gives guidance on introducing or maintaining social security floors and on implementing social protection floors as part of strategies to extend higher levels of social security to as many people as possible, in accordance with the guidelines set out in ILO standards relating to social security.
  • Equality of Treatment (Social Security) Convention, 1962 (No. 118) - [ratifications]
  • Maintenance of Social Security Rights Convention, 1982 (No. 157) - [ratifications]
    These instruments provide for certain social security rights and benefits for migrant workers, who face the problem of losing entitlements to social security benefits which they enjoyed in their country of origin.
  • Further relevant instruments

Further social security instruments

A later generation of conventions expands the scope of protection provided by Convention No. 102. While offering a higher level of protection in terms of scope and level of benefits to be guaranteed, these instruments authorize certain exceptions which ensure flexibility.

The benefits provided under Convention No. 102 and under later conventions are outlined below. This information does not include provisions on the duration and conditions of entitlement to benefits, derogations allowed under these instruments, or higher levels of benefits provided by relevant recommendations. (Note 1)

Medical care

  • Convention No. 102 - [ratifications]: provides for preventive care, general practitioner care, including home visits, specialist care, essential pharmaceutical supplies as prescribed, prenatal, confinement and postnatal care by medical practitioners or qualified midwives, and hospitalization where necessary.
  • Convention No. 130 - [ratifications]: provides the same benefits as Convention No. 102, plus dental care and medical rehabilitation.

Sickness benefit

Unemployment benefit

  • Convention No. 102 - [ratifications]: periodical payments, corresponding to at least 45% of the reference wage.
  • Convention No. 168 - [ratifications]: periodical payments, corresponding to at least 50% of the reference wage. Beyond the initial period, possibility of applying special rules of calculation. Nevertheless, the total benefits to which the unemployed may be entitled must guarantee them healthy and reasonable living conditions in accordance with national standards.

Old-age benefit

  • Convention No. 102 - [ratifications]: periodical payments, corresponding to at least 40% of the reference wage. The rates of relevant benefits must be revised following substantial changes in the general level of earnings and /or the cost of living.
  • Convention No. 128 - [ratifications]: periodical payments, corresponding to at least 45% of the reference wage. Same conditions as Convention No. 102 relating to the revision of rates.

Employment injury benefit

  • Convention No. 102 - [ratifications]: medical care, periodical payments corresponding to at least 50% of the reference wage in cases of incapacity for work or invalidity. Benefits for widow and dependent children in case of death of breadwinner with periodical payments corresponding to at least 40% of the reference wage. Possibility of converting periodical payments into lump sums under certain conditions. Except in the case of incapacity for work, obligation to revise the rates of periodical payments following substantial changes in the cost of living.
  • Convention No. 121 - [ratifications]: same as Convention No. 102, plus certain types of care at the place of work. Periodical payments, corresponding to at least 60% of the reference wage in cases of incapacity for work or invalidity, benefits for widow, the disabled and dependent widower, and dependent children in case of death of breadwinner, with periodical payments corresponding to at least 50% of the reference wage. Obligation to prescribe minimum amount for these payments, possibility of converting payments into a lump sum under certain conditions, and supplementary benefits for disabled persons requiring the constant help of a third person.

Family benefit

  • Convention No. 102 - [ratifications]: provides either periodical payments or the provision of food, clothing, housing, holidays or domestic help, or a combination of these.
  • No new convention exists on this topic.

Maternity benefit

  • Convention No. 102 - [ratifications]: medical care including at least prenatal, confinement and postnatal care either by medical practitioners or by qualified midwives and hospitalization where necessary; periodical payments, corresponding to at least 45% of the reference wage.
  • Convention No. 183 - [ratifications]: medical benefits including prenatal, childbirth and postnatal care, as well as hospitalization care when necessary; cash benefits to ensure that the woman can maintain herself and her child in proper conditions of health and with a suitable standard of living. At least two-thirds of previous earnings or comparable amount.

Invalidity benefit

  • Convention No. 102 - [ratifications]: periodical payments, corresponding to at least 40% of the reference wage; the rates of relevant benefits must be revised following substantial changes in the general level of earnings and/or in the cost of living.
  • Convention No. 128 - [ratifications]: periodical payments corresponding to at least 50% of the reference wage; the rates of relevant benefits must be revised following substantial changes in the general level of earnings and/or in the cost of living.

Survivors' benefit

  • Convention No. 102 - [ratifications]: periodical payments, corresponding to at least 40% of the reference wage; the rates of relevant benefits must be revised following substantial changes in the general level of earnings and/or in the cost of living. .
  • Convention No. 128 - [ratifications]: periodical payments corresponding to at least 45% of the reference wage; the rates of relevant benefits must be revised following substantial changes in the general level of earnings and/or in the cost of living.

Further information

  • Compendium of Provisions of European Constitutions and Comparatives Tables (Online version 2012) - [pdf]
  • General Survey concerning social security instruments in light of the 2008 Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization (2011)[pdf]
  • General Survey on Social Security Protection in Old Age (1989) - [pdf]
  • ILO Social Security Department (SECSOC)

Note 1 - Adapted from R. Silva, M. Humblet: Standards for the XXIst century: Social security (Geneva, ILO, 2002).