Zim lags behind on social security schemes

Tambudzai Jongwe-NSSA Chief Social Security Officer

Ellen Mlambo

MASVINGO – Zimbabwe still trails far behind in terms of provision of standard social security schemes, 31 years after the National Social Security Scheme (NSSA) was established, a senior chief social security officer with NSSA has said.

There are nine basic branches of social security that should be attained by all countries and Zimbabwe currently covers just four, said Tambudzai Jongwe.

He said this during a presentation at the second session of a national virtual mentorship programme for journalists organised by the Insurance and Pensions Commission (IPEC) and NSSA.

The nine basic standard branches are old age, invalidity, survivors, unemployment, maternity, medical care, employment injury, family allowances and sickness benefits.

The four covered by NSSA are old age, invalidity, survivors and employment injury.

The fact that NSSA covers just four of the nine means that Zimbabweans are left vulnerable and exposed to poverty. The Zimbabwean situation is made worse by the fact that 76% of the workers are found in the informal sector which does not contribute to NSSA.

Jongwe did not say whether NSSA has any programmes to ensure that Zimbabwe closes the gap on its social security schemes shortfall. NSSA marketing and communications executive, Tendai Mutseyekwa said that the best placed to comment on when the other national security branches would be in place is the Government.

Mutseyekwa said NSSA is a member of several international bodies that regulate social security schemes and they include the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Social Security Association (ISSA) and the East and Central Africa Social Security Association (ECASSA)

ILO sets international standards for social security.

ISSA promotes excellence in social security administration through professional guidelines and expert knowledge, said Mutseyekwa.

Under the unemployment benefit, people benefit in two ways. The first is contributory unemployment in which a member will have contributed for some months to benefit in case he or she loses a job. The second is available to all citizens who are unemployed. The second group is paid for being unemployed.

None of these two benefits are available in Zimbabwe where unemployment is now estimated at over 80%.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) which sits on the NSSA board has for years been fighting for the expansion of social security benefits and in particular for unemployment and maternity benefits.

ZCTU president Peter Mutasa bemoaned the social security schemes in Zimbabwe for becoming worthless as a result of inflation. He said that there is need for NSSA to go back to the drawing table because pensioners are suffering with earnings in RTGS equivalent to US$6 a month. He said that the earnings were not even enough to cover transport to go and collect the money.

Mutasa said NSSA must instead of expanding its services, concentrate on improving what it is providing. He also bemoaned alleged corruption at NSSA by politicians

He called for the immediate amendment of the NSSA Act so that power is with stakeholders including Parliament which should provide oversight. He said confidence with Parliament is however, dwindling.

Mutasa insisted on the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) which includes Government, Workers and Employers playing a crucial role in the running of NSSA.

Maternity benefit is administered when a woman goes on maternity leave and it ceases to be an employer’s obligation to pay full salary but will be covered under NSSA.

Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enock Dongo said NSSA should consider providing medical care and maternity benefits as they are essentials.

“NSSA should quickly move to cover other essential social security scheme branches like medical care and maternity. We also need to see NSSA providing benefits that can be enjoyed even before one goes on retirement. Most of the benefits that we see are earned after retirement but social insecurity exists whether one is on retirement or not,” said Dongo.

The fault line in Zimbabwe’s social security schemes was exposed in a more glaring way when Zimbabwe fell into an economic comatose during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Never have Zimbabweans been more vulnerable to social insecurity than at that time. Poverty raged and starvation loomed when all workers except those in the essential services stopped going to work.

President Mnangagwa had to bend backwards and come up with an RTGS$18 billion package to rescue the most vulnerable workers including small scale entrepreneurs, workers and vendors. This ambitious rescue package collapsed because Government had no budget for it.

Spiwe Matondo, a vendor said that the Covid19 lockdown experience exposed the weaknesses of the social security systems in Zimbabwe. She urged NSSA to include the informal sector in its programs.

One woman, Angel Maranda said giving birth must be regarded as a national duty and should therefore be covered by NSSA. She said there are a lot of rights that are lost by pregnant women because social security schemes do not adequately protect them.

“The NSSA schemes currently cover the formally employed and according to statistics of the 2019 Labor force survey, 76 percent of working population is in the informal sector,” said Jongwe.

She said there is need for NSSA to include the informal sector to ensure social security is made accessible to the majority of the Zimbabwean population.

“The majority of the Zimbabweans are without cover against life cycle risks such as old age, invalidity, health care, employment injury, and absence of insurance cover against these risks not only traps them in endless poverty but results in social exclusion,” she added.

IPEC director of Pensions Cuthbert Munjoma said one of the key challenges facing occupational pension industry is the exclusion of the informal sector. Munjoma said according to the labor force survey of 2019, just 25% of the labor force has access to occupational pensions and 11 percent of the adult population has access to occupational pensions. https://masvingomirror.com

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