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Why we need a Recommendation on social protection floors

The International Labour Conference (ILC) is expected to vote on a Recommendation for social protection floors. Michael Cichon, Director of the ILO’s Social Security Department, explains why we need this international labour standard.

Analysis | 04 June 2012

1. How does the ILO define “social protection floors”?

They are nationally defined sets of basic social security guarantees, which aim at ensuring basic income security and access to essential health care and other social services for all. They should secure protection aimed at preventing or alleviating poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion, and allowing a life in dignity.

Defined at the national level, such social protection floor guarantees may be achieved through a variety of means, including contributory or non-contributory social transfers. These can include old-age pensions, disability benefits, child benefits, income support benefits and/or employment guarantees and services for the unemployed and working poor, as well as access to essential health care. National social protection floors would also facilitate access to essential social services, including health, water and sanitation, education, food security, housing, and other areas defined according to national priorities.

2. Where do we stand in the process of building social protection floors?

In many countries, social security is still just a dream for the majority of the population. We estimate that 75-80 per cent of the world population does not have access to comprehensive social security. It is a major challenge to ensure that the human right to social security becomes a reality for everyone.

A lot has been done lately to try and cover this gap. A number of middle and low income countries have made great strides in extending social protection that constitute the best proof that social security is an essential element of social and economic development policies. This includes countries as diverse as Argentina, Brazil, Cape Verde, India, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nepal, South Africa and Viet Nam, among others.

3. There are already ILO standards for social security. Why do we need an additional recommendation?

The current ILO normative framework for the extension of social security provides a unique set of minimum standards for national social security systems which are internationally accepted. However, as the International Labour Conference recognized in 2011, the existing standards need to be complemented by a new standard, which supports the extension of social protection coverage and the progressive building of national social security systems. If adopted, the new Recommendation will support countries in covering the unprotected, the poor and the most vulnerable, including workers in the informal economy and their families. This is to ensure all members of society enjoy at least a basic level of social security throughout their lives.

4. How will the new recommendation be drafted?

The Conference already agreed in 2011 on a number of elements that should be included in a possible recommendation. In addition, Governments have been asked to reply to a questionnaire after consulting with workers and employers organizations in their country. Based on these elements, and replies received from 118 countries, a proposed Recommendation has been drafted that will constitute the starting point of the discussion of the Social protection floor committee.

The final recommendation should be voted on the last day of the plenary session of the International Labour Conference to be held on 14 June.