While unemployment protection schemes are scarcely developed in Asia and the Pacific, as elsewhere in the world, important developments are taking place to expand and improve coverage. Certain developments have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This article presents overall trends and concrete good practices of member institutions in the region.
The social security systems of the region of Europe have a track record of promoting inclusive growth and social cohesion. In addition to workers’ social insurance, systems typically address income poverty and its root causes through tax-financed income transfers and social assistance. A life-course approach to social protection is a priority, especially for the region’s comprehensive systems. Generally, social protection in Europe mitigates risks that occur from birth through to the start of the working life, as well as in work and during periods of unemployment, incapacity for work or when work is no longer possible.
Effective access to adequate social protection plays a crucial role in promoting sustainable development, social cohesion and socioeconomic resilience. In recognition of this, African governments have expressed a renewed commitment to expand the scope and extend social security coverage to the vast majority of the population on the continent during the last decades. However, effective coverage rates remain generally low and vary within countries and across branches of social security due to low labour participation in the formal economy (ILO, 2017).
After over a year since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts to address existing and new social security coverage gaps due to extensive labour market disruptions continue to be at the forefront of governments’ agendas to minimize the negative impact of the crisis and protect people’s livelihoods.
The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted world economies and social security systems for over a year now. This article focuses on measures taken to secure the livelihoods of those whose employment relationship was cut.
The closure of childcare centres and schools resulting from the COVID-19 lockdown measures has imposed a heavy strain on families, both on the children and their parents, and especially the mothers. The pandemic exposed yet again the preponderance of women in childcare and housework, raising once more the serious challenges of gender equality, women’s rights to social security as well as their financial security and overall well-being (Doucet, Mathieu and McKay 2020, p. 277).
Originally aimed at safeguarding the value of financial assets and ensuring the financial viability and long-term sustainability of pension schemes, investing social security reserve funds has surged to become a core business process in social security administration. At the onset, investment decisions were informed essentially by the investors’ quest for capital and guided by the fundamental principles of safety, liquidity and yields with a predominant focus on financial instruments and/or financial markets (Cichon et al. 2004).
Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing gaps in social security coverage. The crisis' impact is particularly severe in low- and middle-income countries where many workers, especially those in the informal sector, have no access to any form of social protection. The crisis prompted governments to establish new social security benefits on an emergency basis for uncovered groups and to take rapid measures to expand existing social security schemes for those covered populations perceived as particularly vulnerable.
In Europe, the second wave of the coronavirus has since September prompted the re-introduction of social distancing measures, restrictions to economic activity, telework, curfews and lockdowns. Without certainty on the duration of the health crisis and its knock-on effects on the economy, governments have been re assessing the status of social security benefits and measures introduced since the onset of the pandemic.
Partial unemployment schemes, sometimes called short-term work schemes, are one of the key mechanisms to reduce both the degree of sudden economic downturns and their labour market and social impacts. As reported by the ISSA in March, these schemes, which allow employers to flexibly reduce working hours of their employees while the income loss of employees is covered through unemployment insurance, were extended or newly implemented at a massive scale shortly after the onset of the coronavirus crisis. In many cases, they were considered an essential measure to cushion the economic shock resulting from lockdown restrictions.