Towards a comprehensive and resilient social security system

Social security and COVID-19: Which measures were effective in protecting workers?

The recent ILO report reviews the national social security measures in response to the COVID-19 crisis, analyses their effectiveness, and discusses future challenges in improving the social security systems. The report covers seven countries in the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Ukraine.

News | 11 March 2021

Social security and jobs responses to the COVID-19 pandemic

In all countries, social security policies constituted a crucial part of the response to the COVID-19 crisis. The key social security and job protection responses included:
  • Ensuring access to health care services for COVID-19 treatment and testing to all residents.
  • Providing temporary wage subsidies to workers affected by the pandemic.
  • Allowing for subsidy or deferral of social security contributions as a measure to continue business and retain employees.
  • Providing sickness benefits to workers who are unable to work due to business closure or under mandatory quarantine. However, this measure was not widely adopted.
  • Enhancing the unemployment benefits, and provide them for workers who were not protected previously.
  • Increasing social assistance benefits (including one-off supplements) and relaxing the eligibility conditions. Serbia and North Macedonia provided one-off income assistance of a universal character.
  • Several countries introduced temporary special childcare leave for workers who had to provide care to children staying at home.
  • Indexing pensions and increasing the minimum pensions.
Social security and labour market responses in different phases of the pandemic

The report provides recommendations on how the above measures should be maintained, fine-tuned, or phased out during the different phases of the pandemic (lockdown, gradual reopening, recovery). While it is clear that health care needs to be maintained throughout the pandemic and beyond, measures such as wage subsidies and unemployment benefits need to be more targeted at sectors at risk during the reopening phase and should be replaced by active labour market policies.

Towards a comprehensive and resilient social security system

The crisis has also revealed gaps in the existing social security systems. In particular, the social security coverage should be extended to workers in all types of employment including non-standard forms of employment by taking into account their large heterogeneity and high labour market mobility. The compliance and enforcement should be improved by encouraging the formalization of workers in the informal economy and improving the contribution collection against underreporting of contributory wages. Benefits from non-contributory programmes should effectively supplement to fill the coverage gaps of the benefits from contributory schemes.

Facing unprecedented challenges, countries should seize the opportunities to build an adequate, sustainable and well-functioning social security system, guided by the Social Security Minimum Standards Convention No. 102, the Social Protection Floors Recommendation No. 202 and other international social security standards, based on a well-informed social dialogue.