Plan to limit hiring of foreign nationals not xenophobic, says Nxesi

Labour minister Thulas Nxesi says sectors such as agriculture, security industry, hospitality and restaurants have a preference to employ foreign nationals. / Jairus Mmutle
Labour minister Thulas Nxesi says sectors such as agriculture, security industry, hospitality and restaurants have a preference to employ foreign nationals. / Jairus Mmutle

Government is planning to restrict the number of foreign nationals working in certain sectors of the economy.

In terms of an employment policy being developed by the department of employment and labour, the minister could be given the legal right to set sectoral targets or quotas for foreign nationals in some sectors.

"What could happen is that where there are areas where there is preference for foreign nationals - for instance restaurants - the minister would most probably determine that in this sector, only this percentage of foreign nationals will be allowed to work," employment and labour director-general Thobile Lamati told MPs yesterday.

"This is not a new thing. It happens all over the world. It is part of labour market employment policies. We think that employment policy will go a long way in addressing the number of challenges we have in the labour market."

Employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi said it was well known that in agriculture, the private security industry, the hospitality industry, restaurants etc, employers preferred to employ foreign nationals or non-South African nationals rather than South Africans. In some cases this had to do with skills, in other cases it was a matter of exploiting cheap labour, he said.

"You can't sit with millions of unemployed South Africans and in certain industries you just allow non-South Africans to be employed without any regulation," the minister said in a virtual meeting of parliament's two labour committees.

"We must introduce those quotas and stick to those quotas and be very hard to those quotas. However, in doing this it was important not to be seen to be xenophobic or violating international conventions that SA has signed. It is going to be a balancing act," he said.

The discussion in response to a question by DA labour spokesperson Michael Cardo took place during a briefing by Lamati on the department of employment and labour's annual strategic plan and annual performance plan.

Cardo said the quota proposal was "mad and dangerous".

"It would be a nasty exercise in social engineering and whenever and wherever that has been tried throughout history has had ugly consequences," Cardo said.

The annual performance plan includes the enactment and implementation of the amendments to the Employment Equity Act which were tabled in parliament earlier this year. It provides that sectoral targets be set for employment equity.

Lamati stressed that transformation of the economy in terms of employment equity could not be put aside as the economy starts to get moving again. The same applied to the application of B-BBEE codes which were necessary because companies had failed to transform on their own.

"I don't think that because we find ourselves in this situation (Covid-19) the issue of transformation of the labour market and the economy should be put aside. As we phase in the economic activity, as we try to boost the productivity of the companies I don't think the transformation agenda should be put aside..."

DA MPs questioned if it was the appropriate time for government to be setting sectoral employment equity targets when it was not known what sectors of the economy would still remain after Covid-19 and also whether B-BBEE codes were still appropriate.

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