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Unions welcome restrictions on employing foreigners

| Legislation

Despite accusations of xenophobia, labour movements say foreigners are actually too easily exploited by business. The ANC is set to impose restrictions on the employment of foreigners and unions are welcoming the move amid an ongoing jobs bloodbath in the country.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the party’s national lekgotla, held at the weekend, called on government to set strict parameters on the employment ratios of South African citizens and foreign nationals in locally owned businesses.

There are already restrictions on employment ratios in foreigner-owned businesses operating in the country. The country’s two biggest trade union federations, Cosatu and the newly formed South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), are giving it the thumbs up.

Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said it would curb employers who preferred to hire foreigners at the expense of South Africans, while Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla called the decision the “best thing that could be done by our government”.

Vavi cited the hospitality sector, which almost exclusively hires non-South Africans, especially in restaurants and hotels.

He said it was not xenophobic to reverse this practice as locals were unemployed because of it.

Cosatu’s Pamla pointed to the construction sector, in which Chinese firms often brought in unskilled labour from China and bypassed South African workers.

“This decision by the ANC will help to deal with our high unemployment. We have to prioritise unemployment,” Pamla said.

“This is the best thing that can be done by this government, especially as there are so many young South Africans sitting at home unemployed.”

Employers preferred foreigners because they were easily exploited and would accept a “slave wage” to survive, plus they were not organised by unions, Pamla said.

“We are thinking of starting to organise the foreign workers,” he added.

The official unemployment figure rose to a 14-year-high of 27.7% in the first quarter of 2017.

The mining sector is bleeding jobs, with AngloGold Ashanti threatening to retrench 8 500 while Bokoni Mine in Limpopo is to lay off 2 600 workers due to low margins and cost-cutting.

The retail sector is also affected. Pick n Pay has announced it is to retrench at least 3 500 employees and the poultry industry has shed tens of thousands of jobs in the past two years.

But this ANC decision appears to contradict its own stance on xenophobia and its call for foreigners to be given a fair deal.

Recently, Gauteng Premier David Makhura lambasted Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba for saying he would deport foreigners involved in criminal activities.

And Deputy Minister of Police Bongani Mkongi was condemned by the SA Human Rights Commission for comments he made about hijacked buildings in the Johannesburg CBD.

Mkongi was quoted as saying: “How can a city in South Africa be 80% foreign national? That is dangerous. South Africans have surrendered their own city to the foreigners.” – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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