New migrant worker rules planned for South Africa

The Department of Employment and Labour is developing a new Labour Migration Policy aimed at regulating foreign workers in South Africa.

In a presentation to parliament on Tuesday (30 November), the department said that policy is needed to address population expectations regarding the accessibility of work for South Africans, given worsening unemployment and a perception that foreigners impact labour market access.

The department said it would achieve this by tackling specific sectors – including the hospitality, tourism, hairdressing and logistics sectors – which have a high number of foreign workers.

While the formal parts of these sectors employ documented foreigners, less populated and unregulated parts of the country employ undocumented foreign nationals, leading to job losses for locals.

The department said it was impossible to tell how many of these foreigners are unlawfully employed due to the lack of documentation.

This has led to distortions in the labour market as South African employers deliberately prefer foreign workers as a source of cheap labour, as they are willing to work for much lower wages.

At the other end of the spectrum, the policy is expected to help address South Africa’s problem finding critical skills, which skilled foreign workers could supply, the department said.

The policy will also offer protection to lawful migrant labourers in the country and help enforce rules to ensure foreign workers are treated in line with international treaties.

This will extend to South Africa’s new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), with the policy aiming to develop specific rules for migrant labourers from neighbouring countries, including:

  • Eswatini;
  • Lesotho;
  • Namibia;
  • Seychelles;
  • Zimbabwe.

“Migrants constitute about 4% of the population and 7% of the labour force. Especially since 2000, the influx of largely undocumented migrant workers has increased dramatically in an ever-expanding range of sectors.

“Migrants are in particular concentrated in the informal sector, which is a worrying trend,” the department said.

This can be addressed through the introduction of a new flexible quota system, streamlined visas, and strong multilateral partnerships with SADC countries, it said.


Read: South Africa jobs bloodbath – unemployment rate hits new record

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New migrant worker rules planned for South Africa