Study on extension of social security to informal workers in Rwanda

In 2023, EPRN in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO) conducted a study on the extension of social security to informal workers in Rwanda.

The informal economy provides employment to more than 90 percent of people of working age in Rwanda. The contributory social security coverage to workers who are mainly in the formal sector is largely limited to less than 10 percent of the working age population (GoR 2023). The Government of Rwanda recognizes the role of employment and social protection in economic transformation of the country (GoR 2009, GoR 2020). Indeed, it has deployed mechanisms of offering social security coverage that ideally covers the entire population including the informal economy and others that are targeted to specific groups of beneficiaries especially those who are vulnerable. Mutuelle des Santé is a showcase of health insurance whose coverage is estimated at over 85% of the entire population of Rwanda. Ejo Heza is relatively new and has reached an estimated 2.9 million people out of a national population of 13 million. There are VUP public works schemes, Girinka – a one cow per poor family programme and other social safety net schemes targeting the most vulnerable (GoR 2009, GoR 2023). But besides limited and less than universal coverage of social security in Rwanda, there are still multiple barriers to the coverage and indeed to the formalization processes of activities that employ many informal workers. COVID 19, a pandemic that hit the world and Rwanda severely in 2020, has disrupted the health systems and efforts to generate systematically formalized employment and provision of decent work (EPRN 2020). Revisiting coverage of social security to informal workers and how it can be extended is important because this category of workers was hard hit and is vulnerable and known to be facing multiple risks. Findings of this study will be important to several categories of stakeholders. Government of Rwanda gives priority to social protection in drawing out Transformation Strategies (GoR 2018).

ILO, its tripartite partners in Rwanda and the UN systems in the frame of sustainable development require updated information and data to inform the rights of people and not ‘leaving anyone behind’ in economic development. Civil society, private sector and development partners need evidence to advise, advocate and inform policy making, reviews and strategies in Rwanda. Thus, this study was important in understanding the informal work dynamics in Rwanda, getting original, update information on barriers, risks and policy options as well as what is required in terms of resources-finance and institutions.

The overall approach was mixed methods. The secondary data was collected by reviewing international and national publications. Primary data was collected through Key Informants Interviews (KIIs) and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs). Emphasis was put on participation of all stakeholders and getting voices of employees and employers in the informal sectors.

The FGDs were composed of informal workers in close consultations local administrative authorities. The size of each was from 6 to 12 people of informal and informal employers where possible. To allow more freedom at least 2 of the FGDs were composed of women and moderated by a woman. There were 2 cross sectoral groups one for refugees and another for PWDs. For refugees, preliminary consultations with UNHCR have selected an FGD for urban refugees in Gikondo and another in Kigeme in the Southern Province. All in all, the study got feedback from 20 FGDs.