New efforts to incorporate the informal sector

Social Watch Benin

Structural adjustment programmes recommended by the World Bank, together with privatizations, have nullified numerous workers’ rights and have weakened social security systems to the detriment of the poorest sectors of the population. Barely 10% of the population is covered by current social security systems. A pilot project being implemented in conjunction with the ILO is aimed at protecting workers in the informal sector.

Thereis a crucial need for social protection to be guaranteed to the large majorityof the population that lives below the poverty line. At present, however, 90% ofcitizens have no access to any form of social insurance or benefits, and arethus fully excluded from social security coverage.

A lack of social security constitutes the denial of a fundamental human rightestablished by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This lackexacerbates the difficulties involved in fighting poverty. Social securitysystems have a direct impact on poverty reduction, both through risk preventionand the provision of indemnity, provided that they are understood as a set ofinstitutions, measures, rights, obligations and reallocations aimed atguaranteeing access to health and social services and providing income security.

Social or economic risks have a significant impact on poverty levels. The poorare most affected by such risks and are most vulnerable to them. Often anemergency situation draws many individuals and families into a state of povertyfrom which they cannot escape.

With a view to enabling the population to live a decent life with a securelivelihood, the government of Benin, development partners and civil societyorganizations are implementing various initiatives.

The basic objective of these initiatives is the extension of social securitycoverage to currently excluded sectors of the population, while incorporatingthe initiatives themselves into the comprehensive implementation of coherentsocial protection programmes adapted to the situation of the country, in pursuitof the goal of social justice.

TABLE 1. Basic social indicators in Benin

Probability of not living beyond the age of 40 (%)


Adult literacy rate (% of over 15s)


Population without access to improved water sources (%)


Children underweight for their age (% 0-5 years)


Life expectancy at birth (years)


Combined gross enrolment rate (primary, secondary and tertiary education) (%)


Women in the Parliament (% seats)


Personal computers (per 1,000 people)


GDP per capita (USD)


Sources: UNDP and UN Millennium Indicators (2004/2005 data)

Current social security systems[1]

Traditional solidarity has existed since the beginning of time but socialsecurity in its present form became a reality during the colonial period. Itsestablishment was promoted by organizations such as the International LabourOrganization (ILO), which in turn arose out of the struggle of workers uprootedfrom their social resources and cut off from traditional support systems.

The first social security schemes implemented in the country covered onlyworkers in structured sectors of the so-called formal economy. Currently thereare two different schemes: the general social security scheme and a specificscheme that regulates civil service and military retirement pensions.

The general social security scheme is administered by the National SocialSecurity Fund (CNSS), a legally established public social service organization.This scheme is governed by Law 98-019 of March 2003 and protects salariedworkers in the private and parastatal sectors and their dependents. It coverssix areas: family and maternity benefits (through its family benefits branch);old age, disability and death benefits (through its pension branch); workaccidents and work-related illness (through its workers’ compensation branch).

The CNSS is governed by a general board and administered by a nine-memberadministration board comprising three representatives of workers, three ofemployers and three of the state.

The public employees’ regime is regulated by Law 86-014 of September 1986 andis administered by the National Retirement Fund of Benin (FNRB). It coverspermanent state agents (civil servants, judges and military personnel) and theirdependents. It provides insurance for old age (pensions based on length ofservice, proportional pensions or early retirement payments), work-related orother disability (pensions or income for life parallel with the proportionalpension) and death (pensions for widows/widowers, orphans and other legitimatedependents).

Legislation had also been adapted to a certain degree with regard to genderaspects, for example, by incorporating international instruments including ILOConvention 183 of 2000 on maternity protection and by establishing familyallowances.

In addition, the special scheme for public employees provides women civilservants with a benefit equivalent to a year’s service per each childinscribed in the registry office, up to a maximum of six children. As a resultwomen can qualify for the length of service-based pension earlier than theirmale colleagues.

Privatizations and their outcomes

In addition to these public schemes there are a number of private socialsecurity systems. During the 1990s, some private insurance companies launchedseveral products in the market: sickness insurance, old age pensions and lifeinsurance.

Although in theory these systems are accessible to all sectors of thepopulation, in reality only the more affluent workers with sufficient means cancomplement the obligatory public insurance with private insurance.

Under what practically amounted to an imposition by the World Bank, Beninunderwent several phases of structural adjustment programmes aimed at decreasingpublic expenditure and fostering productivity. These programmes resulted in areduction in the number of permanent public employees and a hiring freeze. Oneresult was a large number of ‘voluntary retirements’ of civil servants,which were in reality a way of reducing their numbers and annulling their socialrights.

However, it has been concluded that in practice all these measures have failedto increase productivity.

The trend to privatization, which still continues in the country due to thegovernment’s express intent to open up every door possible to private capital,has always been strongly opposed by the trade unions. This resistance hascompelled the government to impose some rules on privatizations, amongst themthe requirement to avoid any dismissals or to offer appropriate compensation todismissed workers. However, in many cases, the new employers do not respectthese rules that they had agreed to comply with.

In addition, privatizations tend to reduce or eliminate workers’ rights, suchas the right to stable employment and to length of service-related benefits, andalso tend to establish partial restrictions on the right to strike as well asimposing structures for determining wages. Taken together, these factors haveled to a generalized precariousness of employment in the country. To summarize,privatizations have weakened social security systems to the detriment of thepoorest sectors of the population.

NGO health insurance experiences

The state provides public employees with sickness insurance and work-relatedaccident benefits, but in fact these are only forms of medical expenditurecoverage that reimburse 80% of expenses incurred by insured workers.

Some health protection initiatives are being developed by NGOs and ruralcommunities. These initiatives are aimed at developing family savingsspecifically for guaranteeing primary health care services.

A lack of unemployment benefits

The function of the National Agency of Employment Promotion (ANPE) is tohelp young people with their insertion in the labour market as they search fortheir first job, or provide them with orientation to become self-employed.However, there is no provision relating to minimum income at insertion orunemployment benefit coverage, along the lines of such provisions in developedcountries.

Informal workers’ mutual fund in pilotphase

Barely 10% of the population is covered by the current social security system. Amarked characteristic of the labour market is that a significant proportion ofworkers operate in the informal sector, the organization of which is notcompatible with the application of the institutional social security system.Also, workers’ incomes in this sector are generally low.

With the support of the ILO, Benin has, since 1996, benefited from a project forthe extension of social protection to the informal sector. Backed by the ILO andBelgian cooperation agencies, the government created a Social Security MutualFund for informal sector workers, under the Ministry of Labour and PublicService. It is being piloted in three locations: Cotonou and its surroundingarea, Parakou and Porto Novo. This Mutual Fund covers workers employed in theinformal sector and the self-employed, either as individuals or throughworkers’ associations. The fund was initiated in close collaboration withworkers associations of artisans, artists, crop farmers, cattle farmers, fishersand traders.

TABLE2. Evolution of the number of registered members in the Mutual Fund







Cotonou and surrounding area


















Source: WorldSolidarity (Cotonou Regional Office).

The number of associations participating in the Mutual Fund’s Cotonou branchrose from 18 in 1999 to 120 by 2004. It had approximately 1,000 adherents ofwhich more than 800 belonged to the sickness benefit section, with an average of32,000 beneficiaries.

Protection for asylum seekers andimmigrants

Benin is an open and hospitable country. It has taken in refugees from manyAfrican countries but principally from Togo, and has ratified the 1951 UNConvention relating to the Status of Refugees. According to the latest UnitedNations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) global rankings, Benin is placedin the first category in regard to respect for refugees’ rights and theirintegration.

Assistance for the poorest of the poor

In 2003 the Ministry of Social Protection and Families created the NationalSolidarity and Social Action Support Fund (FASNAS) to benefit individuals aswell as groups. This Fund established social well-being promotion centres thatwork in communities to provide attention for people living in extreme poverty.However, these assistance centres lack necessary elements and suffer from anacute shortage of human, material and financial resources.


In summary, Benin is still far from achieving social protection for all itscitizens. Mobilization against social exclusion and the lack of socialprotection coverage for all workers, both in the formal and informal economy,must translate into a government policy of social justice and redistributionwith the support of development partners and civil society.


Twagilimana, U. (2005). “Stratégies pour l’extension de la protectionsociale: cas du Bénin”.
WSM-CNVInternationaal (Afrique). August. [online] <>.

The national coalition in Benin is organized in a multilevel structure:

- General Assembly (150 CSOs)
- National Coordinating Committee
- Executive Secretariat

technical committee formed by six CSOs oversees 12 target groups (corresponding to the 12 MDG targets adopted by Benin). There is also a National Budget Analysis Unit, advised by resource persons (social scientists, political scientists, economists and researchers).

At the sub-national level there is one person responsible for each of six départements (provinces). At the local level, local cells supervise activities in the communes (municipalities).


[1] The followingsections of this report are based on the work of Uzziel Twagilimana (2005),Technical Advisor, WSM Project (World Solidarity) in Benin.