The core responsibility of every government is to ensure adequate social protection for the citizens. Social protection may take various forms but, generally speaking, it refers to the support provided in the form of income or benefits to the poor, vulnerable and socially-excluded in society with the aim of enhancing their capacity to protect themselves against social and economic risks such as loss of income, illness, death, and other such contingencies. Thus, social protection embraces both social security and social welfare policies and measures such as social assistance for the elderly, support for children and the disabled, as well as interventions aimed at empowering individuals or groups to earn income through employment or self-employment.
The majority of Africa’s nearly one billion people live in poverty, destitution and squalor. Africa’s poor and destitute are mostly found in the rural areas where they are engaged in agriculture and other informal economic activities. Many of them rely on the complex traditional social network for social protection. But the continued weakening of extended family support in the face of harsh economic realities as a result of neo-liberal globalisation and rapid rate of urbanization means many people including children, the elderly and the disabled, are left to struggle for survival.
Today, after many years of relatively high economic growth in Africa, the majority of the African people still lack social protection. In most African countries, social protection exists for only a tiny fraction of the population working in the formal segment of the economy including those employed in the public sector and a few others in the private formal sector. Thus, the sections of the population who desperately need social protection are those who do not have access to it.
Public officials are often ready with answers such as "we do not have enough resources to provide social protection". But recent studies have shown that every government, including those in Africa, can provide social protection for the most vulnerable people in society - children and the elderly, if they get their priorities right. It is also well known that governments never get their priorities right if civil society is apathetic about the public choices made by their governments. In societies where civil society organizations can pile up pressure on governments public choices are made according to the needs of the society. This is where the role of trade unions becomes crucial.
In almost all African countries, the trade union movement is among the most visible civil society organizations with some amount of leverage on public policy choices. Unions must, therefore, ensure that a significant portion of public resources is committed to the provision of social protection for the most vulnerable in society. The ILO Convention 102 (1952) - the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention 102 (1952) provides a good guide for the provision of social protection. Unions must join hands with other civil society organisations to ensure that social protection becomes a priority for governments across Africa.
Before trade unions can shift the attention of government to social protection issues, they should first be adequately informed about the situation on the continent with respect to social protection. This study, which is based on information from ten African countries, provides the information and the lessons required to kick-start trade union campaign to ensure that social protection becomes a priority for governments in Africa. Through this study, the ALRN is calling on all trade unions to lead the campaign for the adoption of the Social Protection Floor (i.e., access to essential services such as water, food, health, sanitation, education and basic income for poor households).
It is important to underline the fact that the only way to ensure social protection on a sustainable basis is to create the conditions for decent work, particularly for the youth and women. Decent jobs guarantee adequate income for workers and their families and, thus, reduce poverty and vulnerability. Therefore, as part of the efforts to ensure the provision of adequate social protection, unions must work with their social partners to create the conditions for decent work.
To the researchers in the African Labour Research Network, I say the publication of this book should not be the end of the process which started almost three years ago. You have to assist the trade union leaders in your countries to engage their social partners so that, collectively, we can make social protection a priority issue in Africa.
Anthony Yaw Baah,
Deputy-Secretary of Ghana Trades Union Congress &
Founding Member of the African Labour Research Network (ALRN)