The Employment and Labour Sector in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region has adopted the SADC Guidelines on Portability of Social Security Benefits to ensure that workers moving within the Region maintain social security rights and benefits acquired under the jurisdiction of different Member States, including pension benefits and occupational injury and diseases benefits.
The guidelines seek to facilitate mutual administrative assistance between social security authorities in two or more countries. Following adoption of the Guidelines in March 2020, five Member States (Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe) committed to pilot their implementation through bilateral arrangements.
Through implementation of the Guidelines, the mentioned Member States have agreed to cooperate on reciprocal measures to coordinate their national social security systems through mutual administrative assistance whereby migrant workers’ claims are processed through the agency of social security institutions in the country of destination. Such coordination also entails the opportunity of migrant workers preserving their benefits by being able to extend their contribution periods after moving to another SADC Member State.
SADC Member State have also, through the guidelines, agreed to ensure equality of treatment of nationals and migrant workers under the social security legislation of the Member States, and to provide for the portability of benefits and improvement of the cross-border payment of social security benefits.
The right to social security is a fundamental human right guaranteed to all persons. However, non-citizens are not always granted access to social security because of discriminatory provisions in national social security laws and the “nationality or territoriality principle” of social security systems, which requires a claimant to be physically present in the country to be eligible for benefits.
Such principles and provisions hinder the cross-border portability of social security benefits. This is especially the case in the SADC Region, where the portability of social security benefits is limited because of the absence of a region-wide social security coordination agreement.
SADC national social security systems are diverse in nature. This has led to the conclusion that it is difficult to develop baseline standards for the region and to adopt measures to coordinate the various countries’ social security systems. However, harmonisation of the various social security systems is not imperative to the conclusion of a multilateral social security agreement. All that may be required is a convergence of the social protection policies of the Member states.
Therefore, diversity in national social security systems and schemes does not preclude the adoption of a regional instrument for social security coordination. SADC Member States merely need to specify issues such as the social security risks or benefits (and scope of beneficiaries) to be covered; equality of treatment in the respective national systems; exportability of benefits; aggregation of insurance periods; determination of the legislation applicable; and institutional and administrative cooperation.