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More social protection for migrant workers in West Africa

The project “Support and advice to African public authorities responsible for migration and development initiatives along the migratory route to West Africa” (MeDAO Project), funded by the European Union and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation and implemented by the International and Ibero-American Foundation for Public Administration and Public Policies (FIIAPP), carries out capacity building activities in social protection of migrants.

The social protection of migrant workers has become a key cause of concern among governments and social partners throughout the continent, particularly in several West African countries. Migrant workers, in particular undocumented migrant workers, are excluded from coverage by social protection instruments and schemes. Migrant workers face indeed a variety of important challenges. The first issue is the territoriality principle, which requires that workers meet certain conditions, such as nationality or residence in the country of employment, to be entitled to social security benefits. The second issue concerns difficulties involving portability of entitlements, which refers to migrant workers’ recognised right to keep and transfer the social security entitlements that they have accrued or are in the process of accruing in their host country, regardless of their nationality or place of residence. Other obstacles to take into account are the linkage between two principles – reciprocity in terms of enforcing international agreements and the principle of territoriality – as well as administrative deficiencies, especially in the region of the countries concerned. In addition, in some cases, social security schemes might be insufficiently developed, which is a problem for agreements that apply on a reciprocal basis, and social security schemes can also differ considerably, that is, in terms of disparity in the design and level of benefits. These issues have an impact on the provision and portability of benefits in and from the country of origin. Therefore, despite the extent of migration in the West African region, many migrant workers do not have any social protection either in the countries where they work or their countries of origin.  

Since the launch of the MeDAO project in January 2011, a number of initiatives has been implemented within the framework of this project with the view to improve the provision of social protection to migrant workers and their families in the four beneficiary countries (Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Morocco and Senegal).

As a first step, a comparative study was conducted to analyse the current situation, prospects and critical aspects of the four countries’ public policies and existing initiatives regarding migration and development. With regard to social protection, the study examined issues such as the major characteristics of each country’s social insurance systems, their institutional framework, ratified international instruments and bilateral social security agreements. The findings have led to recommendations and ideas for reforming the systems in order to provide relevant solutions.  Especially noteworthy among these reforms and recommendations is the inclusion of migrant workers in social legislation, which should be accompanied by a weakening of the territoriality principle, and the development of voluntary insurance products under the formal social security system. Voluntary insurance products would allow migrants to make up gaps in their insurance payments that occurred during their expatriation. The country of origin also needs to recognise its responsibility to offer social protection to migrant workers and to transpose that responsibility into its national social protection policies and systems and international cooperation instruments

The second step, a joint training seminar for the four countries entitled “Measures for promoting a transnational social protection system for migrant workers and their families”, was held in Dakar from 27-29 August 2012. The seminar sought to identify the measures that could improve access to social security systems in countries of origin through unilateral initiatives, as well as measures that could ensure the portability of benefits through bilateral and multilateral agreements. The proposed measures include the need to create a Caisse de Prévoyance Sociale (voluntary provident fund) by encouraging the diaspora community to enrol in voluntary programmes. With respect to unilateral or multilateral initiatives ensuring the portability of benefits, the EU agreement with the North African countries, especially Morocco, was identified as a good practice, as well as Cape Verde’s agreements with other African countries, particularly the Portuguese-speaking nations. This training provided an opportunity for establishing South-South dialogue, with support from International Labour Organisation (ILO) experts and diaspora involvement.

The MeDAO project is currently supporting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriate Senegalese to develop a work plan for promoting the ratification and implementation of bilateral and multilateral social security agreements in Senegal. The work plan was developed during a workshop held from 13-14 September 2012 in Dakar, within the framework of the MeDAO project, in cooperation with the Ministry of Civil Service, Labour and Institutional Relations, the Ministry of Youth, Vocational Training and Employment, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Social Security Fund and the Senegal Private Sector Pension Scheme The work plan targets ILO conventions No. 97 on Migration for Employment and No. 143 on Migrations in Abusive Conditions and the Promotion of Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Migrant Workers, as well as the Inter-African Conference on Social Security (CIPRES) General Convention on Social Security. It will also focus on the review and the implementation of bilateral agreements between Senegal and Mali, Mauritania, Cape Verde, France and Spain (in the latter case the timeliness of signing the agreement will be assessed).

Advocacy and awareness-raising training programmes are conducted for members of the National Assembly and civil society in February and March 2013. Officials will receive training in the development of implementing regulations (administrative arrangements) and their operational implementation in April, while May and June 2013 will be devoted to supporting the Senegalese authorities to develop and negotiate administrative arrangements resulting from the bilateral agreement with Cape Verde. 

These initiatives clearly demonstrate how important labour migration related social protection is for these four African countries. They reflect the fact that the proper management of migration and job mobility issues must include a comprehensive approach to the actual lives of workers and everyone involved. 

For more information on MeDAO activities and results in the area of social protection, please visit: