By: Maria Goyayi
Social protection is defined as the set of policies and programmes that targets at improving people’s livelihood through enhancing their capacity to manage economic and social risks, such as unemployment, sickness, disability and old age. In so doing, social protection reduces vulnerability and poverty in a society, since it has a positive impact on improving access to quality education and health services while at the same time increasing access and investment in productive assets such as agricultural tools. Social Protection ranges from social assistance programmes, non-conditional to having previously made contributions (e.g. cash transfers to poor households) – to social insurance programmes, conditional on past contributions (e.g. contributory old-age pensions). Therefore, provisioning of social protection should be viewed as a priority area for achieving the 2030 agenda by the Government, specifically in addressing Goal 1 on eradicating Poverty and Goal 10 on reducing inequalities in the South African Community.
South Africa (SA) continues being a preferred destination for many migrants from other part of Africa, with an estimated over 2 million migrants of working age (15 to 64 years old) residing in the country. The United Nations Population Division estimated the migrant workforce to be 3.2 million, representing 5.8% in 2015 which grew to 4.2 million representing 7.2% of SA’s total labour force in 2019. SA’s lucrative economy, one of the most advancing in the continent, and its commitment to upholding human rights and rights of refugees and asylum-seekers, contributes significantly to the exponential increase in the inter-regional and international migration to SA. However, the proliferation of migrants into SA has had detrimental effects, compromising government’s stance to its commitment to uphold human rights while delivering its promise to uplifting socio-economic welfare of the public. Despite there being a political will to cater and accommodate migrants in SA, the increasing financial and economic woes has led the government to adopting and frequently changing laws that in numerous ways, have impacted negatively on migrants’ access to social protection. As such In the Southern African Development Community (SADC) migrant workers right’s to accessing social protection is not a realizable right but a myth. In some cases, these migrant workers may have access to some short-term provisions of social protection but are denied long-term or equal access as citizens. Factors that affect legal and effective social protection coverage of labour migrants include non-eligibility, barriers to take-up and portability constraints. In SA, migrant workers are largely excluded from the national social protection system. The existing bilateral agreements with other SADC states do not usually include social protection and where they do, for instance with Mozambique, relevant mechanisms are poorly enforced and employers’ compliance is low. This is a result of negative anti-immigrant attitudes, such as the argument that there are too many foreigners in SA, foreigners are taking their jobs and the likes.
However, the SA government, other relevant stakeholders and the society at large need to become aware of the importance of inclusive social protection. African migrant workers deserve access to social protection in SA and everywhere else and the following are the reasons why: –
Access to social protection in SA should not be an exclusive right to only some social grouping, but extended to all in the society. Reflecting on the aforementioned conception of social protection, it is indeed a cushion for the vulnerable social grouping that should be afforded to all irrespective of social and legal status. Consequently, as a first step to effectively address the inaccessibility of social protection to African migrant workers and reduce inequities between them and local communities involves developing policies that take their realities into account. Although the existing migration-aware and mobility competent policies do not necessarily translate in practice, the South African government should engage with and include migrant-led organizations, civil society, international organizations, and researchers working with migrant groups in the development of appropriate responses. Leaving this category of the society out of the national social protection framework may engender negative coping strategies leading to mental health issues, and secondary health and economic concerns.
Dr. Maria Lauda Goyayi is an academician and a researcher. She writes in her personal capacity.