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Southern Africa Trust |

Crossing the Threshold of Regionalism: Can We Meet the Social Cost of Integration in Southern Africa?

Migration & Social Protection

This policy brief reviews social security systems in southern Africa. In the context of increased cross border migration as a result of deeper regional integration and deteriorating living conditions in some countries, the brief examines the possibility of social benefits for migrant workers in southern Africa being portable across countries in the region.

Access to long-term social security such as pension and health care benefits are of particular concern to migrant workers. They generally lose any benefits that may have been accrued in a host country if they move back to their country of origin after their work period. In a context where labour migration is big, and set to increase with deeper regional integration, the possible portability of social benefits for migrant workers across countries in the region becomes an important social protection mechanism. That is, the ability of migrant workers to move with such benefits between host countries and back to their home country.

The administrative procedures associated with portability mainly refer to the totalization of periods of insurance in the host and the home country to determine the migrant worker’s pension benefits in both countries, the extraterritorial payment of pensions, and transfers between authorities in both countries to guarantee continued coverage for migrants. Any meaningful regional social protection system should integrate social assistance with social services and ensure that migrant workers do not fall below acceptable minimum standards of social security, regardless of residence. This policy brief raises the importance of such a regionally-focused social security system as an important instrument for improving the quality of life for migrant workers; thereby contributing to overcoming poverty and more effectively managing the movement of people between countries in the region.

  • Member States shall create an enabling environment so that every worker in the region shall have a right to adequate social protection and shall, regardless of status and the type of employment, enjoy adequate social security benefits;
  • Persons who have been unable to either enter or re-enterthe labour market and have no means of subsistence shall be entitled to receive sufficient resources and social assistance.

SADC has also developed a Code on Social Security to provide guidelines for the development and consolidation of social security.  Article 4.1 of the Social Security Code says that everyone in SADC has the right to social security. The Code includes different forms of social security. It also emphasises protection against collective risks and the establishment of an independent monitoring mechanism. While SADC member states have been consolidating their social protection systems since the end of colonial rule, social protection systems in the majority of the countries have not provided an effective buffer against poverty. Social protection instruments being used in SADC are not adequately responsive to the socio-economic circumstances of the region. But more importantly, these benefits are not portable by migrant workers when they return to their home countries especially those related to social insurance.

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