Role of Civil Society in Advancing Social Protection in ASEAN
Samuel Li Shing Hong
Social Protection Coordinator
Asia Monitor Resource Center (AMRC)
Recognising that economies in Asia are developing very fast, there is a considerably widening gap in terms of income as indicated by the Gini coefficients per country. For example, in most of the countries including Laos and Vietnam the income gap has been widening while the economy grows. Aside from increasing informalisation of jobs, there are also other indicators indicating that the labor situation has not improved in the last decade. It is true that poverty in Asia is decreasing but relative poverty has been increasing which means that the income gap in society has become more serious. There are more self-employed and own account workers and more women than men in these categories. The situation of women is relatively worse than men in the informal economy because they have no voice and visibility particularly in decision making processes. Aside from increasing precarious work, the marginalised informal workers also suffer from privatisation of public goods. Increasing occupational risks comprise another difficulty faced by informal workers.
The ASEAN Declaration on social protection highlights working on social protection . It contains principles, strategies and mechanisms that include effective targeting systems to ensure that social protection services would go to those who need them most. There is also the need to expand social insurance to the informal sector and provide vocational training as part of active labour market interventions and human resource development.
ILO is now working on the transitioning from the informal to formal economy. Our previous workshops conducted by AMRC had various responses on this transitioning. In Thailand social protection is extended to informal workers but benefits are not similar to those of their counterparts in the formal sector. There are undocumented migrants, children, and elderly who are excluded. In Cambodia social protection is very limited to health insurance and pension. Although the NSSF has been established in 2007, actual implementation of the social security fund is still slow. In Indonesia the BPJS law has been finally enacted after a huge campaign pressuring the government. However, social protection is not yet comprehensive and limited to pension and healthcare only. The production assets of society are not covered like land. Though there is a marketised social protection program in the Philippines where workers pay for their contributions, coverage has a relatively wider which includes pension, social security, health insurance, and housing programs. However, coverage and benefits are still narrow and contributions have recently been increased.
In our workshops we also found different opinions from the people on what is lacking in social protection. Regarding the concept of inclusivity, the most marginalised are usually excluded. Social protection must be rights-based and follow the non-discriminatory principle. Social protection must not only be accessible to those who can only afford it. Also, in some cases, distinction is apparent – in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship, job status, etc. A grassroots-oriented social protection program is lacking. It was also highlighted in the workshop that democratic processes somehow are lacking in social protection bodies. They must be consultative, transparent, and representative. Social protection programs must be comprehensive. Most programs are limited to pension, social insurance, health insurance, etc., and are characterised by high contribution and limited benefits. Social protection must be reform-grounded, transformative, and anchored in the overall development policy. For social protection to work towards reclaiming peoples’ dignity, it must be coupled with reforms – economic, environmental, social, and labor reforms. Most important to consider is that there must be an active role of the working population. It must be civil society-led and not private sector-driven for it to become an empowering process or program.
In the meeting last year where some of you may have participated we came up with the Declaration wherein we emphasised the key elements for social protection and also the demands of the network which include the following:
· To look into poverty, inequality, joblessness, precarious workers, hostile working conditions etc
· To work towards social protection as a right of all citizens to restore the dignity of the working people and balance the economy by ensuring dignified life for all and securing a future free from uncertainties arising from job, income, social, economic and environmental insecurities. To work beyond safety nets for select segments of society. Social protection must be inclusive and transformative. It is non-discriminatory and encompasses all individuals, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, race, citizenship, religious belief, caste, political affiliation and employment status. It must move away from the prevailing neoliberal policies that prioritise financial investment over the citizens’ benefits.
· To do further research and awareness-raising about social protection through intensified advocacy and awareness raising campaigns.
· To work together and embrace new forms of organising towards a cross-sectoral collaboration of working peoples’ movements across Asia
During the ASEAN People’s Forum we were very active in providing inputs to the Declaration on Social Protection. We were very instrumental to include the clause “Adopt measures to counter the adverse impacts of climate change and globalisation, including an increased focus on education, health, social protection for all, poverty-reduction, food sovereignty and security, pro-people economic institutions, effective regulations and mechanisms to hold governments and companies to account, and to safeguard sustainable development and human rights.”
We also demand for the implementation of the newly issued rights-based and inclusive ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection with meaningful and substantive participation of civil society, peoples’ and grassroots organisations and individuals.
For us, what the grassroots need do to be able to respond and demand for social protection in Asia is to continue sustainable organising to be able to increase their bargaining power. At the national level there is a need to form cross-sector alliances while at the Sub-regional level we need to strengthen our regional network, analyse the needs and demands of people and to capacitate them on advocacy.
Why do we need to do research? To be able to work with people and workers to increase capacity to be able to advocate for social protection we need to do a research that will look into the existing social protection policies and programmes in every country specifically if there are there any social protection policies and programmes specific to women. The research will closely study how these policies and programs are being implemented. It will look into the role of the private sector and the civil society in the implementation of these programs and schemes. We will explore if there is a clear understanding on social protection among the marginalised grassroots communities and also examine the current initiatives of civil society and the labour movement on organising and bargaining for social protection (at the grassroots and national levels) and see how campaign and advocacy efforts are done at the grassroots and national levels.
*Presented in a subregional workshop of Homenet SEA in Thailand in Sept of 2014