Workshop on the extension of social protection to the informal sector in Rwanda


Early December, the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB), the Ministry of Public Service and Labour (MIFOTRA) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) organized a workshop to identify specific initiatives to extend social protection to workers and enterprises in the informal economy in Rwanda. This workshop was delivered as part of the ILO Global Flagship Programme on Building Social Protection Floors for All in Rwanda, which is funded by the Governments of Belgium and Luxembourg.

Whilst social protection is recognised as a human right in international human rights treaties as well as in international labour standards, low- and middle-income countries, including in Africa, struggle to reach universal coverage. In Rwanda, contributory systems mainly cover workers in the formal sector while social assistance schemes support the most vulnerable, which leads to a majority of the population mostly employed or working in the informal economy without comprehensive coverage. According to the Rwanda Labour Force Survey 2022, persons with informal employment at their main job accounted for over 90% of total employment. Employment in the informal sector was mostly in market-oriented agriculture (51%), followed by construction (11%), wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (11%), transport and storage (6%), and in manufacturing (5%) and activities of households as employers (4%). Informal workers also include over 150,000 persons working informally for formal enterprises. As highlighted during the workshop, new actions involving a plurality of stakeholders will be needed to increase social protection coverage for informal workers, including initiatives already under development.

During the workshop, Ms Jasmina Papa (ILO Social Protection specialist), together with different ILO technical experts, presented how different countries around the world have adopted innovative measures to extend social protection coverage to workers and enterprises in the informal economy. Those range from making sure that legal frameworks allow everyone to have access to the most comprehensive coverage, simplifying administrative procedures, ensuring that workers and employers are aware of their rights and obligations, or better aligning the available benefits with the needs of workers. The extension of social protection also contributes to the formalization of the economy which contributes to more decent jobs and increases fiscal space.

The workshop greatly benefited from the active involvement of the ILO's tripartite constituents. Thanks to a dynamic and participatory approach, the Rwandan Government, employers' and workers had the opportunity to share their expertise on existing social protection coverage gaps faced by informal workers, and to identify innovative solutions on how to extend social protection coverage in Rwanda in line with ILO Convention No. 102 on Social Security (Minimum Standards) and Recommendation No. 202 on Social protection Floors and Recommendation No. 204 on Transitioning from the Informal to the Formal Economy.

Among the challenges faced by informal workers, participants stressed the importance of raising awareness of existing schemes and creating a culture of social protection and savings. Rwandans are all familiar with the regular spots on radio explaining the benefits and how to access Ejo Heza, a long-term saving scheme, but more efforts are needed so that everyone understands their rights and obligations. The Private Sector Federation, employers’ organisations and trade unions are willing to play a stronger role in sharing information. Digital tools such as the Imisanzu platform can help creating awareness on the rights and obligations of beneficiaries but also contribute to better compliance. However, several participants stressed the need to strengthen the presence of public agencies responsible for social protection throughout Rwanda, particularly in the most remote regions. Participants also highlighted a number of administrative obstacles to accessing social protection in Rwanda.

The lack of enforcement and control and low compliance with the Rwandan labour law constitutes another recurrent barrier to the extension of social protection according to the participants. While labour inspectors play a crucial role in encouraging compliance and increasing formalization, they face a certain number of challenges, such as limited resources and administrative capacity constraints, which leads to poor enforcement of social protection provision. On this matter, the ILO, together with MIFOTRA, organised in November 2023 a capacity-building workshop for labour inspectors to enhance labour inspectors’ knowledge and skills on topics like working conditions, employment relationships and elements related to workplace occupational safety and health policies. Nevertheless, a number of obstacles remain to be addressed, such as a better reporting of registration gaps in order to improve the existing legal framework, a clearer definition of their role, notably by moving away from mediation to focus on inspection, and more generally to strengthen their capacity.

The next phase will consist of implementing pilot initiatives to extend social protection to informal workers, building on the needs assessments and capacity-building carried out in recent months. As a first step, the ILO will consult its tripartite partners to assess the most relevant sector(s) and instruments for developing such initiatives, taking into account feasibility and scale of impact.

All workshop materials are available on the dedicated workspace.

Events 05.12.2023 - 07.12.2023 Rwanda