Government to review rules around hiring foreign workers in South Africa

President Cyril Ramaphosa says that government is working on a number of reforms to tackle the country’s growing unemployment rate.

The president, who was answering questions during a parliamentary Q&A session on Thursday (27 August), said that this will include a review of migration and its impact on economic activity.

Ramaphosa said it was important to avoid ‘populist temptations’ to blame the unemployment country on foreign nationals working in the country.

“By the same measure, we need to understand that we must respond to the frustration of our own people at the violation of immigration laws and other regulations by those companies that employ foreign nationals illegally,” he said.

To deal with these issues Ramaphosa said that an inter-ministerial committee (IMC) has been established to deal with the employment of foreign nationals.

The committee will be co-chaired by the minister of Home Affairs and the minister of Labour, and will deal with the migration of foreign nationals for employment and related opportunities, he said.

Other issues which the IMC will address include:

  • Providing guidance on matters such as existing labour supply and agreements, trade relations and transportation agreements;
  • Addressing criminality and related security issues across the country borders;
  • Review decisions on special dispensation work permits;
  • Look at amendments to the country’s Immigration Act, Employment Services Act and labour migration.

“The committee will also need to ensure that the country’s approach to the employment of foreign nationals provides and addresses the issue of scarce critical skills that we need to grow our economy,” Ramaphos said.

He said that the government was looking forward to the work of the committee as many South Africans have raised the issue of foreign nationals who are in South Africa ‘in great numbers’.

“When this work is done and completed, the cabinet will be able to reflect on this matter and will be able to possibly even get public participation on whatever option we come about with.”

Ramaphosa said that post-1994 South Africa became an ‘oasis’ for citizens of other African countries which led to a number of people streaming into the country. He added that this issue should be addressed in a structured matter.

He cited recent legislation introduced in Botswana and Ghana which delineates certain business which may only be occupied and owned by nationals.

“These (laws) were quite straightforward, were not seen as xenophobic and are absolutely right,” he said. “We are scanning our own continent and the globe in relation to this. ”

He said the IMC will base its work on the experience of other countries as well as input from specific sectors – such as truck drivers – as part of its work.

The president said there was a balancing act of dealing with the needs of South Africans as well as the dangers of closing the country to the rest of Africa.

“South Africa must continue giving leadership and be the reservoir of what is best for the African continent. In doing so there are certain principles which we must adhere to and advance.”

New legislation

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

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.

Ntshavheni said that South Africans have a penchant to hire other South Africans, and that locals will take up the chance for employment if more opportunities are offered to them.

“We are not only introducing legislation to say which sectors are restricted to South Africans but we are also establishing support mechanisms for those South African who are operating in these sectors,” she said.

Employment and Labour minister, Thulas Nxesi, said that his department will also clamp down on employers not complying with the country’s labour laws by unlawfully hiring foreign workers.

Nxesi said that the influx and employment of displaced foreign nationals in the country was not of their making and that the situation was ‘getting out of hand’.

“We cannot in this day-and-age continue with the employment of foreign nationals, and think there will be peace if you are going to take low-level jobs of low-skilled people and give it to displaced people,” he said.

The minister said the intention of employing displaced people was a deliberate act by unscrupulous employers to pay them ‘starvation wages’.

“The intention is to employ displaced people and pay them starvation wages, make them to work long hours, make them to sleep on top of the shops.

“The intention is very simple – it is designed to boost profits through cheap labour,” said the minister.

Read: The ‘silver lining’ of South Africa’s Covid-19 corruption: Ramaphosa

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Government to review rules around hiring foreign workers in South Africa