by NORMA TSOPO
WHEN Gamuchirai Sigauke – a fine automotive engineer, was lured from her job in Gweru to work as an illegal immigrant in a Johannesburg clinic 10 years ago, she unknowingly gave up her social security cover.
Being an illegal, she does not have any insurance cover in South Africa and having terminated her contributions to National Social Security Authority (NSSA) after only four years Sigauke has no social security net to fall back on in the event of incapacitation.
“I decided as a naive young person and didn’t think much of the future. I think I was also not properly oriented to the benefits of having such social security,” Sigauke said.
This goes for millions of young Zimbabweans who have fled the country over the last two decades to escape its harsh economic climate albeit at the cost of lifelong contributions to insurance and pension schemes.
Sigauke is contemplating returning when she still has time to secure another job and making contributions for at least 10 years, the period prescribed for pension benefits by NSSA according to the organisation’s marketing and communications executive Tendai Mutseyekwa, before she reaches retirement age.
“Time flies. I’ll need a pension when I’m old and the only way out is to find a good employer who will enroll me into a good pension scheme and also support my resumption in making NSSA contributions,” Sigauke told Madzimbahwe Explorer.
The millions are inadvertently going to return to their country and hope to be cushioned either by their investments or personal savings which unless in professional hands and a stable macro-economic environment is a risky prospect.
It often leads to destitution and poverty and is the reason why social security is now considered a human right that statutory bodies like NSSA and Insurance and Pensions Commission (Ipec) were put in place.
Social security contributes towards poverty eradication in line with sustainable development goal number one which seeks to end poverty in all its forms everywhere, through among other things, expanding social protection programmes.
NSSA chief social security officer, Tambudzai Jongwe told a NSSA and Ipec journalism mentorship programme that even if people like Sigauke were to contribute to social security schemes in other countries such contributions could not be transferred back to Zimbabwe to ensure their social security cover.
Migration was a “significant challenge to social security” as there was “no potability of benefits between countries, hence no continuity leaving migrants exposed.”
She said lack of insurance cover against life cycle risks like old age, invalidity, health care, employment injury among others is a pervasive challenge in the country as many more employees are falling out of social security nets.
“Absence of insurance cover against these risks not only traps them in endless poverty but leads to social exclusion as well,” Jongwe said.
A massive exodus of the workforce from formal employment, which contributes to NSSA, to the informal sector is also worrying the government insurer.
“76 percent of the working population is currently not formally employed,” Jongwe said.
NSSA acting director of contributions, collections and compliance Agnes Masiiwa noted connivance between employees and their employers not to review employees’ salaries but allowances to keep statutory deductions like PAYE and NSSA pension contributions down as also undermining people’s social security cover.
“There is connivance between employers and employees to avoid payment of contributions,” Masiiwa said.
Although this leaves migrant workers, those in the informal sector and even those in formal employment in the dump even NSSA as the insurer is also being adversely being affected by the dwindling revenue base.
The flight of NSSA contributors into the diaspora is also undermining the organisation’s financial viability. “This negatively affects NSSA’s contribution base,” Jongwe said.
NSSA’s financial woes are compounded by the massive fall in employers who are still contributing which has gone down over the years.
From 106 310 registered employers only 26 997 are currently active. “This scenario negatively affects the financial viability and sustainability of NSSA schemes,” Jongwe said.
To cure the local challenges NSSA is exploring continuous and periodic reviews of contributions, lobby for increase in retirement age, extending tax financed coverage as entry strategy into the informal sector and investing in employment creation initiatives to broaden the pool of contributors, Jongwe said.