Regional experts have called on ECOWAS to lead in the implementation of the Social protection plan for workers in the informal economy and those in the rural areas (SPIREWORK) by formalizing existing institutional frameworks and establishing a legislative or regulatory, structure-based social protection for various sectors such as Agriculture, Trade and Gender.
This was the outcome of a three-day capacity building and planning workshop which took place from 11-13 December 2013, jointly organized at its Abuja headquarters by the ECOWAS Commission and the African Union Commission (AUC).
The ECOWAS Commissioner for Human Development and Gender, Dr. Adrienne Diop, who opened the workshop on behalf of the Commission President, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, said that the right to social protection was essential to all Member States and must be guaranteed by their governments.
According to an April 2012 World Bank report, at least 60% of the population in developing countries and nearly 80% of the inhabitants of the poorest countries in the world lack effective social protection, which exposes them to the adverse effects of volatility in the international financial markets as well as rising prices of food and fuel.
It is for this reason that ECOWAS has taken a first step with a Supplementary Act on social protection between Member States which was adopted by the summit of Heads of State and Government in June 2013.
For ECOWAS to achieve its vision 2020, which requires a transformation from an ECOWAS of states to an ECOWAS of people, she said the full participation of workers in the informal and rural sectors will be necessary as they constitute 60-70% of the active population in the region.
Similarly, the Nigerian Minister of Labour, Mr. Chukwuemeka Wogu, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Dr. Clement Illo, stressed that the informal economy and rural workers have the same social security rights as enshrined in the respective social security frameworks in Member States but, however, the reality of the situation seemed to be one more of exclusion than inclusion.
With the informal economy and rural sector contributing 42% of the continents GDP and 30-90% of its job creation, it has become necessary to implement SPIREWORK in the region, he noted.
The workshop featured presentations on the AU SPIREWORK and ECOWAS policies and programmes related to SPIREWORK as well as others by Member States and ECOWAS on proposed roadmaps to implement SPIREWORK in the region.
SPIREWORK is an AU initiative which defines the roles and responsibilities of Regional Economic Communities (RECs), Member States and the African Union Commission in improving social security.
During the ECOWAS conference of Ministers in charge of Labour in Dakar, December 2012, the AUC and ECOWAS were called upon to collaborate in facilitating social protection for the informal economy and rural workers in the region through SPIREWORK.