South Africa to introduce new quotas around hiring foreign workers

The Department of Employment and Labour is looking to formalise a new employment policy which will restrict the number of foreign nationals working in specific sectors of the economy.

Presenting to parliament on Thursday (7 May), Employment and Labour director-general Thobile Lamati said that this employment policy is currently being developed by the department’s employment services branch.

“If the minister is given the legal right to set sectoral targets, what would happen was that in areas for instance where there was a preference for foreign nationals – such as the restaurant sector – the minister could make a determination on a percentage of the foreign nationals allowed (to work) in the sector,” he said.

“This is not a new thing. It happens all over the world and is part of labour market employment policies. We are not sure if the target will increase or decrease but we think the employment policy will go a long way in addressing the number of challenges we have in the labour market.”

Later in the presentation, Labour minister Thulas Nxesi also addressed the issue directly, noting that South African citizens had been disadvantaged by the current system.

He noted that this is particularly problem in agriculture, the restaurant industry, hospitality and private security.

“For some reason, employers have preferred foreign nationals over South Africans. Some of the reasons in other sectors has to do with skills but even that is regulated.

“Sometimes it is because it is cheap labour that they can easily exploit. You can’t sit with millions of unemployed South Africans and in certain sectors employ foreign without regulations.

“We must introduce those quotas and (stick to them) ‘very hard’.  In doing that we must not be seen to be xenophobic or violating international conventions, but at the same time protect our national interests. So it is going to be a balancing act.”

New legislation? 

In September 2019, the Department of Small Business Development said it is working on a new law that will restrict foreigners from working in certain sections of the economy.

In an interview with 702, small business development minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said that the legislation in line with other countries – such as Nigeria and Zimbabwe – that have regulations specifying the sectors where foreign nationals are not allowed to participate.

While Ntshavheni did not specify exactly which sectors would be regulated, she indicated that the new legislation would be heavily informed by the above laws used in other African countries.

“If you look at the retail sector, when we all grew up our spaza shops were run by ourselves, by our neighbours, we took over shops from our mothers,” she said at the time.

“If you (look) now then that is not the demographic of who is running our spaza shops.”


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South Africa to introduce new quotas around hiring foreign workers