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Investing in social protection, decent work for economic recovery 

By Gloria Nwafor
02 November 2021   |   4:21 am
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on economies, the need for a human-centred recovery from the crisis by nations has been emphasised.

Ayuba Wabba

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on economies, the need for a human-centred recovery from the crisis by nations has been emphasised.
 
The human-centred approach, experts said, should be based on inclusive economic growth and employment, protection of all workers, universal social protection and social dialogue.
 
The recovery, they argued, should not only be to improve people’s living standards and reduce inequalities, but to empower people to navigate the challenges imposed by a rapidly changing world of work.
   
Already, an estimated 8.8 per cent of total working hours, equivalent to the hours worked in one year by 255 million full-time workers, were lost globally in 2020.

   
This is just as global labour income is estimated to have declined by 8.3 per cent. Even as lower-middle-income countries experienced the greatest losses in working hours, which stood at 11.3 per cent, and in labour income, amounting to 12.3 per cent, research has it that women in the informal economy, children and migrant workers were disproportionately impacted.
   
Similarly, about 88 per cent of global government spending to mitigate the effects of the crisis during the early phase of the pandemic has been in advanced economies. 
     
The unprecedented social protection and labour market measures were mostly implemented in advanced economies, leaving 53.1 per cent of the global population unprotected.
     
Experts believe that the policy window for embarking on a high-road strategy in support of robust social protection systems needed to be seized to make rapid progress towards universal social protection systems while preparing for present and future challenges.
   
They canvassed that green and just transition holds massive potential for all countries, particularly by investing in more sustainable and diversified economies as well as in the creation of new productive employment opportunities.
   
According to them, it is time to show solidarity and to increase investments in universal social protection, decent work and gender-equal societies. 
   
These areas of priority, they argued required committed financing from all sources for the short, medium and long term. Recently, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and the International Labour  Organisation (ILO) jointly launched a global accelerator for jobs and social protection to create at least 400 million jobs by 2030, primarily in the green and care economies and extending social protection floors to over four billion people currently not covered by any social protection measure by 2030. 
 
The accelerator builds upon pre-existing initiatives to bring stakeholders together to achieve universal social protection and green and job-rich economic development and put the world back on track to achieve the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
   
The advances made through the financing for development initiative, ILO said, needed to be taken forward and to scale not just to address the imminent debt crisis, but also to unleash investment in an inclusive, sustainable and resilient recovery.
   
As proposed in the Secretary-General’s report, investing in jobs and social protection for poverty eradication and sustainable recovery, the ILO will convene a multilateral forum in 2022 to review and accelerate progress towards a job-rich, green, gender-responsive, socially inclusive and human-centred recovery.
   
Director-General of ILO, Guy Ryder, in his remarks at the just-concluded, annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), on economic and social outlook, stated a two-track recovery, which he said is creating a great divergence, which puts the recovery itself at risk and undermines trust and solidarity.
   
According to him, the recovery is deeply uneven, spurred by vast differences between advanced and developing economies in access to vaccines, the fiscal capacity and ability of governments to respond, a growing digital divide and the threat of a looming debt crisis. 
   
Governments across the world have implemented unprecedented employment and social protection response to protect people’s health, employment and incomes.
   
Approximately 1,700 social protection and labour market measures were rolled out. But while these measures acted as important shock absorbers, they remained insufficient to mitigate the full impact of the crisis and were mostly implemented in advanced economies, leaving 53.1 per cent of the global population unprotected – some 4.14 billion people. 
   
Despite the disproportionate impact of the crisis on women’s employment and incomes, only 13 per cent of these measures were aimed at strengthening women’s economic security and only 11 per cent provided support in the face of rising unpaid care demands.
   
Additionally, in many countries, social protection measures, including income support, have been temporary or ad-hoc in nature and now risk being rolled back despite their positive impact on poverty prevention and mitigation.
   
In Nigeria for instance, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, on different fora has called for adequate implementation of social protection cover for Nigerian workers, following present security challenges bedevilling the country.
   
Specifically, at this year’s NLC roundtable on social protection cover,  Wabba stated that social protection is key for human security and social justice, noting that it is the foundation for peaceful societies committed to shared wealth and prosperity.
He said it was firmly established that the crisis of physical insecurity in Nigeria has very strong ties with human insecurity especially as marked by the dearth of social protection cover for the poor and vulnerable in the society.
 
He noted that social protection was a fundamental human right intended not only to set a minimum social security floor but also plays an important role in alleviating poverty and providing economic security for all. 
 
According to him, “Social protection floor such as basic income security including cash transfers where needed, pensions, disability benefits, unemployment benefits and support, maternity protection, child benefits as well as universal access to essential social services such as health, education, water sanitation and housing makes a lot of difference.”
   
Wabba, who revealed that the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weakness of the current global economic model and social protection system, said Africa has the least social protection coverage for its citizens leaving most Africans vulnerable to economic shocks, poverty, hunger, huge sickness burden, illiteracy, and destitution.
   
He expressed worry that the state of social protection cover and standard of living indices leaves very little to be desired.
   
As of 2020, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), showed that about 83 million Nigerians representing 40 per cent of the total population live in abject poverty.
 
Wabba said: “In the absence of any modicum of sustained social protection cover, the only available alternative is to resort to a life of crime. This is the reason many young people are being attracted to terrorism, kidnap for ransom, rural cum urban banditry, armed robbery, militancy, prostitution, thuggery, and other forms of violent crime.”
   
At the forum, Speaker, Federal House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, stated that social protection was one of the most important responsibilities of the government. 
   
He said it was a constitutional obligation to ensure that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, a reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and the unemployment, sick persons and welfare of the disabled are provided for.
   
He added: “I have always believed that any politician whatever party he belongs to that does not have the interest of workers at heart is not a true politician. I believe that the reason why any politician should exist is the people.
   
“I want to assure you that in the House of Representatives, we are committed to using the tools of legislative authority to advance solutions and implement policies that will help achieve the promise of the more perfect union. These are challenging times for our country.”