The International Social Security Association (ISSA) contributed to the seventh BRICS Labour and Employment Ministers’ Meeting on 15 July 2021. This marks a decade of ISSA support to the BRICS cooperation on social security. The meeting was an opportunity for the BRICS countries to discuss strategic priorities and next steps in their cooperation.
The ISSA provides support to the BRICS – Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China, South Africa – in the area of social security since 2011. The BRICS Virtual Liaison Office was launched in 2018 in an effort to further strengthen cooperation in social security among the BRICS countries. The office is jointly hosted by the ISSA and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Under the 2021 Indian BRICS Presidency, Continuity, Consolidation and Consensus is the underlying theme. The meeting of BRICS labour and employment ministers on 15 July was chaired by the Indian minister, Shri Bhupender Yadav. One of the main topics discussed was how to promote social security agreements among the five nations. The ministers could build on discussions held at working level in a recent webinar organized by the BRICS Virtual Liaison Office.
Promoting social security agreements
BRICS Member States acknowledge that globalization, paired with international inequalities and increased migration, has exacerbated the need to guarantee the social security rights of migrant workers. A growing number of countries are therefore negotiating and entering into social security agreements, both in bilateral and multi-lateral contexts. So far, among the BRICS countries, only Brazil and India have concluded a bilateral social security agreement, but the ministers committed to quicken up their pace and move forward.
“There is a general understanding that social security agreements constitute one of the most effective tools not only in ensuring access to social security but also in addressing informality”, said ISSA Secretary General in his statement to the ministers.
Formalization of work
Formalization of labour markets was another key topic of discussion. While informal work remains a major challenge in the five countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation. The ministers declared that they would strengthen policies, regulations and measures to facilitate the transition from the informal to the formal economy in line with ILO Recommendation no. 204 on Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The ministers also addressed the issue of women’s participation in the labour market and the role of the gig and platform economy. These are closely linked with the previous issues. Informal work and the lack of social security affects in particular women, especially if they are migrant and/or domestic workers. On the other hand, while the gig economy has created new opportunities for work, it is crucial to integrate platform workers in the formal economy to ensure their decent working conditions including adequate social protection. In view of the growing importance of the digital economy, the ISSA has emphasized on many occasions the importance of a “smart” approach to social security.
The BRICS Labour and Employment Ministers issued a Declaration, in which they recognized the important technical support of the ISSA and the ILO. At the highest political level, further discussions will be held at the 13th BRICS Summit, to be hosted by the Indian Presidency later in 2021.