BRICS countries share a commitment to social protection and their recent initiatives to extend and strengthen social security coverage have significantly contributed to global progress towards universal social protection. The BRICS cooperation as regards social security is supported by the ILO and the ISSA, including through the joint hosting of a Virtual Liaison Office as part of the BRICS Social Security Cooperation Framework. Since 2015, the ILO and ISSA have provided knowledge input to the annual BRICS Labour and Employment Ministers’ and Working Group meetings.
The term BRICS refers to the countries of Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa, which together count for about 42 per cent of the world's population and 32 per cent of global GDP. In August 2023, during the XV BRICS Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa, the BRICS leaders extended the BRICS membership to Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to be effective as of 1 January 2024.
The BRICS countries attach great importance to social protection and discussed progress in moving forward towards sustainable and universal social security systems. Cooperation between governments, social partners and civil society organizations from the BRICS countries and various international organizations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) has been increasingly active, demonstrating a great potential for the BRICS countries to contribute positively to global efforts of social security coverage extension.
As early as in 2011, the International Social Security Association (“ISSA”) launched its BRICS project to monitor social security developments in the BRICS countries, with special emphasis on the extension of social security coverage. In 2013, the ISSA published a report titled “Social security coverage extension in the BRICS: A comparative study on the extension of coverage in Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa”.
Since 2015, the ISSA, in collaboration with the ILO, has actively contributed to the annual BRICS Labour and Employment Ministers’ Meetings as well as the BRICS Employment Working Group meetings. The BRICS Labour and Employment Ministers’ Declaration in 2017 (Chongqing, China) established the BRICS Social Security Cooperation Framework, including the Virtual Liaison Office, to deepen collaboration among BRICS countries and with other countries, supported by the ILO and the ISSA. Following this development, the BRICS Commitment towards Sustainable and Universal Social Protection was adopted at the ILO Global Social Security Protection Week in November 2019, and the first BRICS Executive Interactive Webinar: “Conducting Negotiations on Social Security Agreements between Nations: Initiation Approaches and Procedures” was organized by the Virtual Liaison Office in April 2021 in close cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and Employment of India.
Social security developments in the BRICS countries
The Brazilian social protection system integrates different contributory and non-contributory schemes to achieve high population coverage. The rural pension programme ensures pension coverage for workers in agriculture through a well-adapted scheme. Social security coverage has been extended to self-employed workers and workers in micro-enterprises through a monotax mechanism, which facilitates the formalization of micro-enterprises. Unemployment insurance and employment injury insurance protection has been extended to domestic workers. Brazil’s social assistance programme Bolsa Familia was reinstituted in March 2023, covering approximately 21 million families and was enhanced to include a new supplementary benefit for children aged 0-6 years.
In the Russian Federation, universal social security coverage is rooted in the Soviet-era system, and still retains several non-insurance elements aimed at providing social support to everyone. However, the inherited universal system has undergoing continuous development after the socialist period and is facing a noticeable risk of shrinking coverage due to informal employment fuelled by increasing migration, self-employment and the platform workers phenomena. To meet new challenges and growing inequalities, a wide array of comprehensive targeted reforms and policy measures, including various mandatory and voluntary programmes, have been introduced in key areas of social security. The 2022 law on “Employment of the Population” seeks to streamline unemployment insurance benefit eligibility criteria and standards and optimize the information to be provided by the employers to the public employment services.
India has a wide-ranging social security system comprising of both social insurance and social assistance schemes both at central and state levels. Although close to 90 per cent of the workforce remains informal, the government has committed to the progressive universalization of social security coverage through the Social Security Code 2020 and launched a new e-registration system (e-Shram) which is expected to substantially extend the geographic coverage across India. India’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme currently covers 17 million active rural workers and provides either 100 days of guaranteed employment a year through public works or an unemployment benefit should such work not be available. India is committed to achieving universal health coverage for all its citizens by 2030, which is fundamental to achieving the other Sustainable Development Goals.
China has made impressive achievement over the past two decades in the development of both contributory and non-contributory social security schemes, supported by management and administrative transformation and the innovative use of ICT. As a result, China has realized universal coverage for both pension and health insurance schemes and implemented both urban and rural means-tested social assistance schemes nationwide. Steady annual progress has been witnessed in the extension of coverage under unemployment, work injury and maternity insurance schemes. Long-term care insurance was piloted in 49 cities by the end of 2022, covering around 170 million people. In 2022, national pooling of the basic pension insurance for urban employees was implemented, and the third pillar individual pension system was piloted in 36 cities or prefectures.
Access to social security is a constitutional right in South Africa. Benefit coverage is widespread, and nearly all traditional risks are covered through the provision of tax-financed grants (old age, disability and survivors; family allowances), and contributory programmes for insured workers (sickness and maternity; occupational injuries and diseases; unemployment). The government has been discussing a Green Paper on comprehensive social security, which aims to expand coverage of social insurance and proposes the establishment of a public social security fund (National Social Security Fund). In June 2023, the parliament passed the National Health Insurance Bill, which aims to provide all citizens with access to the same essential healthcare benefits, regardless of their financial means.