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Controversial law to restrict foreign workers in South Africa

Employment and Labour minister Thulas Nxesi says that his department will introduce a new labour migration policy that regulates foreign workers in South Africa.

In a briefing to parliament on Friday (5 March), Nxesi said that the policy would be submitted to president Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet for approval soon, and that an official pronouncement would follow.

Nxesi said that the policy would primarily deal with low-skilled workers, with government expecting a ‘big debate’ given the tensions around foreigners in the country.

“We are going to be needing a balancing act – how do we ensure that we do not violate the Constitution in terms of the Bill of Rights and the right of everybody to work?

“There are various international conventions we have signed giving rights to refugees, both legally and illegally. But how do we also respond to the pressure of the mass employment of our people at the lower levels.”

Nxesi said that South African employers deliberately prefer foreign workers as a source of cheap labour, as they are willing to take ‘anything’ for wages.

The minister indicated that a number of interventions were being considered as part of the policy, but confirmed that his department was considering the introduction of quotas that would specify how many foreign workers could be hired in a given sector.

Based on previous comments by Nxesi, the sectors which are likely to be directed impacted by the labour migration policy include:

  • The hospitality sector;
  • Restaurants;
  • Security;
  • Farming and agriculture.

Specific jobs such as restaurant waiters and truck drivers are also likely to come under scrutiny as they have previously been identified by the department as having a high concentration of foreign workers.

The Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) published at the end of February shows that South Africa’s unemployment rate is now 32.5% – its highest point since the survey was started.

The unemployment rate according to the expanded definition of unemployment decreased by 0.5 of a percentage point to 42.6% in Q4 compared to Q3.

The results of the QLFS show that around one million people moved from the ‘not economically active’ segment of the population – which is broadly defined, but includes those who lost work during the Covid-19 lockdown – back into the workforce.

However, the split between those who returned to employment and those who are now classified as unemployed, leans heavily towards the latter.

The number of employed persons increased by 333,000 to 15 million in the fourth quarter of 2020, it said. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed persons increased by 701,000 to 7.2 million compared to the third quarter of 2020.

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