Home South African Labour dept proposal on foreign workers welcomed by unions

Labour dept proposal on foreign workers welcomed by unions

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Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said the policy aims to achieve a balance in addressing the country’s expectations regarding access to work opportunities.

Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi. File picture: Oupa Mokoena

By Sibusiso Mboto

LABOUR unions, including the Migrant Workers’ Association, have welcomed a proposed policy that aims to cap the percentage of foreign nationals employed in some of the country’s key economic sectors.

The policy is now out for public comment. Unions said that similar policies are already being applied by a number of countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

The National Labour Migration Policy was unveiled by Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi on Monday and is aimed at striking a balance among conflicting interests.

Nxesi said the policy aims to achieve a balance in addressing the country’s expectations regarding access to work opportunities, given worsening unemployment and the perception that foreign nationals were distorting labour market access, while introducing quotas on sectors including agriculture, hospitality and tourism and construction.

According to Nxesi, while the Department of Higher Education and Training had released a list of scarce and critical skills in high demand to provide guidance to all institutions, the government would also impose obligations on both the employer and foreign nationals to transfer skills to locals and permits would be limited to specific durations.

Cosatu said it had been advocating for changes in the labour regulations for a while.

Cosatu KZN secretary Edwin Mkhize said: “We have general unemployment which is quite high, but what is even scarier is youth unemployment because it is over 50%; now you cannot have a situation like that because it spells doom for the country’s future,” said Mkhize.

While welcoming the chance for the public to make an input, Mkhize questioned whether the government would be able to apply the changes.

“In this country, we have companies that have a total disregard for the country’s labour laws whether it is on working hours or honouring the minimum wage, they do as they please.

“The department does not do a thing because it does not have capacity to conduct regular inspections and constant monitoring in the private sector.”

“The government is complacent when it comes to worker issues and we hope that this time around things will be different,” said Mkhize, committing that the union would make its input on the policy.

Federation of Unions of South Africa president Masale Godfrey Selematsela said the discussion was an important one to have as the country was facing pressures owing to the high unemployment rate.

“We cannot have an influx of people from neighbouring countries who take positions that are suited for South Africans; this is an engagement that we should have as the country,” said Selematsela.

He said they would make their contribution, but warned that things needed to change. “It cannot be business as usual where you have foreigners getting jobs that South Africans are skilled in,” Selematsela said.

University of Johannesburg economist Dr Peter Baur conceded that there were instances where illegal immigrants provided cheap labour, but cautioned against imposing quotas.

He added that the nature of labour migration was based on economic reasons and the country was better positioned economically when compared to neighbouring countries.

“Government should look at whether workers are properly registered but not interfere through imposing quotas,” said Baur.

Migrant Workers’ Association Butholezwe Nyathi said there was nothing sinister about regulating the percentage of foreign labour allowed in the country.

“We understand why the government is doing this and that is because it seeks to put the interests of the country’s workers first and there is nothing wrong with that,” said Nyathi.

He said a number of countries in the SADC region were already implementing the policy as a form of protection for locals. He stressed that there should be a mechanism in which foreign labourers with scarce skills were able to transfer such skills to locals, adding that this would also ensure that there were no tensions between locals and foreign nationals.

Nxesi has urged all social partners to use the next 90 days to submit their inputs.

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