Access to social protection
As in many other sectors dominated by MSMEs, the building construction sector faces serious challenges in terms of decent work. MSMEs face significant operational constraints, including tight profit margins, potential cash-flows risks and short-term timeframes. As a consequence workers in the sector have mainly contracts for short periods of time, being many times employed on a project basis. In this context of uncertainty, informal employment relations are the norm, rather than the exception. Indeed, in Zambia 89.8 percent of workers in the construction sector are informally employed (Labour Force Survey, 2012). Construction workers are amongst the most vulnerable when it comes to ill health, poverty in the case of maternity, disease, unemployment, disability, or old age, due in most cases to the lack of any form of social protection. This has adverse implications for working conditions and consequently for enterprise productivity.
Zambia has a long history of contributory social security (SS) schemes, which are based on the social insurance model and currently limited to the provision of protection against loss of income resulting from retirement, disability or death. Such schemes are essentially designed for salaried or wage-earning workers with stable contractual terms of employment. Indeed, the fact that the design does not always take into consideration other patterns of work (like temporary or casual work) acts as a restriction for MSMEs and workers to be registered in the system. On the other hand, alternate social assistance provisions that are for the moment in place are of insufficient scale to be seen as an alternative or even complementary to the contributory schemes.
A co-ordinated UN response
Recognising the potential for the creation of green jobs in the building construction sector and challenges in the sector in terms of decent work, the UN developed a Joint Programme on ‘Enhancing competitiveness and sustainable business among MSMEs in the building construction industry’ in which the extension of social protection coverage, as a basic pillar of decent work and a universal human right, is one of the key outcomes to be achieved. It is expected that strengthening social protection coverage in the building construction sector will lead to improved health of the workforce, less absenteeism as well as a reduction in costs for employers. Indeed, surveys conducted by the project showed that in the absence of social protection the employer is many times the last resource for the worker when it comes to cover unexpected expenditures in health, death of family member, etc. Evidence generated internationally has shown that a relationship exists between productivity and working conditions, including access to social protection. Consequently the goal of the initiative is the promotion of productivity through improved working conditions by enhancing access to Social Security.
Successful coverage of the construction sector will entail the design and implementation of appropriate policy options that fit both sector worker and employer needs and characteristics. In this regard the project will establish priority areas of focus, within a context of social dialogue. The Project will contribute to building the capacity of national stakeholders, the design of appropriate social security schemes, building on best international, regional, as well as national practices.
A value-chain analysis will be at the centre of the process. An important aspect of this methodology is therefore the identification of players in the value chain in order to gain a perspective on the potential role of these different players in developing social security. A value-chain analysis brings to the table the identification of market dynamics, transaction-based relationships, and the incentives and capacities of key market actors which underpin the ‘way they do business’. A deep understanding of the current incentives and capacities of the players is required in order to conceptualise their incentives and capacities to change and take on board new ‘ways of working’.
The design of appropriate social security systems demands sound and concrete evidence in terms of risks and needs, including an analysis of ongoing initiatives that can be adapted and used within the adapted schemes. The process also includes the development of a business case for improved working conditions that will be used to promote awareness among sector stakeholders.
Following these analyses and a process of social dialogue, the Project is currently developing partnership agreements with Workers’s Compensation Fund Control Board, National Pension Scheme Authority and the Ministry of Health to collaborate in the implementation of innovative approaches to the extension of employment injury protection; pensions and health social insurance to workers in the construction sector.