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June 13, 2021

Draft law of universalisation of social security scheme discussed

June 13, 2021

Noted economist Dr Kaiser Bengali said on Saturday there was a difference between social safety net and social security.

“Social safety net is a capitalistic welfare concept. Market economies create distributions of income in such a manner that some persons are benefited more than others and some persons are left out altogether,” he said while addressing a consultative meeting to discuss a draft law of universalisation of the social security scheme.

The Home-Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) organised the consultation at a hotel, where Bengali gave a detailed presentation on the draft law.

He said those left out were then provided with a safety net to save them from crashing down the income ladder. “On the other hand, social security is a socialistic rights-based concept, which is a right of every citizen in need to get support from the state. It is the duty of the state to support every citizen in need,” he said.

The economist said the concept of social protection was enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also recognised in UN instruments and ILO conventions as a basic human right.

Bengali said the Principles of Policy Article 38© of the Constitution of Pakistan calls upon the state to “provide for all persons employed in the service of Pakistan or otherwise social security by compulsory social insurance or other means.”

He said that labour welfare laws had existed since pre-independence days, and other laws like social security and old-age benefits had been added over time.

However, these provisions apply only to formal organised labour and only two per cent of labour was organised. He said that there were some other across-the-board schemes like zakat, Bait-ul-Maal and the BISP. These schemes also covered less than one-third of the population below the poverty line, said Bengali.

He said the definition of labour had changed over time because of structural changes, including changes in the technology-induced production regime, and changes in the labour market regime.

Bengali said universal social protection was needed because large sections of the formal labour force had now been non-formalised and agricultural and informal sector workers had never been recognised as “labour”.

Resultantly, he said, labour welfare provisions applied to a very small part of the population, leaving the bulk of the population unprotected. He said this situation called for recognising all working-age population as ‘workers/employees’ and extending social security to all citizens – universally.

Bengali said that three major components of universal social protection could be unemployment support, emergency health insurance and senior citizen pensions. He said today’s discussion only covered emergency health insurance, while the other two components would be tackled in later stages.

He said emergency health insurance focused on out-of-pocket expenditure on medical care for serious medical conditions – chronic illnesses or accident injuries – could be prohibitive. He said these expenses forced the distressed people to sell their personal assets and pushed families below the poverty line.

He said that support by the state with respect to covering part of the expenditure could prevent families from having to resort to distressed sales of assets to finance treatment. He said the proposed programme was supposed to be implemented in insurance mode.

The economist pointed out that 10 chronic medical conditions were included in the proposed programme. “They include maternity, cardiovascular diseases, organ failure management, oncological diseases, neurosurgical diseases, stroke, third-degree burns, blindness, serious accident injury and major organ transplant. More chronic diseases could be added to this list.”

He said families covered under this programme would pay an annual premium for a maximum coverage amount, and expenses exceeding the maximum coverage would have to be paid by the families themselves.

Taking part in the discussion, the participants appreciated the draft law and suggested amending it by adding more chronic diseases like mental ailments. They said that the procedures should be made simpler so that the maximum number of citizens could be benefited from the proposed universal security scheme.

Karamat Ali, executive director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, said that after the Covid, “we need to go towards universal social security schemes, including jobless allowances, as joblessness is a major post-Covid economy issue”. He suggested that workable suggestions should be made and get implemented properly, and social security should ideally be tax-based.

Peoples Labour Bureau Sindh head Habibuddin Junaidi said that many departments made for the welfare of labourers had lost their utility and they needed strict reforms and restricting. He said the PPP government of Sindh was committed to providing maximum facilities to the masses of this province.

Other speakers included the HBWWF’s Zehra Khan, the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) general secretary Nasir Mansoor, Vice Chairman HRCP Qazi Khizr, Qamarul Hassan of the IFU and Mir Zulfiqar of WERO.