The COVID-19 crisis is driving rapid transformation and innovation in the labour market, social security and occupational safety and health. At today’s Sixth BRICS Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting, the International Social Security Association (ISSA) emphasised the need to take advantage of the opportunities of digitalization in order to develop and deliver ‘smart social security’.
The Sixth BRICS Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting, organized on 9 October 2020 by the Presidency of the Russian Federation, was hosted from Moscow with digital participation from the other participating countries; Brazil, China, India and South Africa, as well as the International Social Security Association and the International Labour Organization (ILO). The ISSA and the ILO jointly support the BRICS countries in the area of social security through the BRICS Virtual Liaison Office. First launched in 2018, this cooperation led to a joint commitment by the five countries signed during the ILO Global Social Protection Week in November 2019.
In today’s meeting, the BRICS labour and employment ministers focussed their discussions on approaches to creating a safe work culture, measures to reduce poverty through social and economic transformation, and the future of labour in a digital economy. During the ongoing crisis, the ISSA has mapped social security responses from over 200 countries, and analysed both international trends and country responses, including an early article on social security responses in China. What comes out clearly is that while governments responded quickly to strengthen and expand social security schemes, social security institutions pushed forward innovations and digital transformation in order to effectively serve the sudden and tremendous increase in demand. At the same time, social distancing and teleworking arrangements made it necessary to find new ways of working, cooperating and dealing with clients.
Smart social security and institutional capacity
“We need to put the achievements of the digital economy at the service of our populations. This is why we are increasingly turning to the concept of smart social security, which means that we must keep up with progress and take the best out of the digital age, ”ISSA Secretary General Marcelo Abi-Ramia Caetano, stressed in his opening speech. In line with the spirit of cooperation, the employment and labour ministers adopted a Declaration, whereby the BRICS countries agreed to broaden knowledge sharing on the digitalization of social security and employment services. They aim to make better use of advanced digital technologies to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of public employment services, labour inspectorates and social protection institutions, including reaching out to workers in the informal economy.
As one of the sessions focussed on reducing poverty through social and economic transformation, Raúl Ruggia-Frick, Head of Centre of Excellence Knowledge at the ISSA, outlined the crucial importance of investing adequately in the development of the institutional capacity to implement policy objectives and crisis preparedness. One of the lessons learnt from the crisis is that institutional capacity to adapt and rapidly deliver benefits to vulnerable population groups emerged is absolutely crucial in times of crisis. Social security institutions around the world have put all their resources to use and made maximum efforts to respond to the exploding needs, while at the same time supporting and assisting their own staff adapting to new working realities.
A safety culture in this new world of work
This leads to another key topic of the ministerial discussions, namely the development of a safety work culture. With lockdowns, social distancing measures, teleworking requirements and more, the world of work changed overnight. This had a major impact on institutions, individual staff and internal resources and human resources management. It pushed forward the use of digital tools and new work often with a lack of strong social networks, and also without the necessary knowledge and skills to make full use of new digital tools, or without appropriate furniture in line with ergonomic needs. BRICS ministers agreed to push forward the development of a preventative safety and health work culture.
In his intervention, ISSA President Joachim Breuer, highlighted the Vision Zero strategy, building on its seven golden rules for safety, health and well-being at work. This platform is gaining increasing relevance and importance, with over 12 600 supporters so far. A new Vision Zero Accredited Trainer programme, offered by the ISSA and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), was launched at this week’s World Congress on Safety and Health at Work Digital Meeting. This event clearly demonstrated how the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated innovation in occupational safety and health, similar to the effect of the crisis on digitalization in social security. The Vision Zero approach has a particularly large audience in Russia, and a new agreement with the Ulyanovsk Oblast region was signed this week.