Prioritise South Africans for jobs
There is a negative narrative about international migration emanating particularly from some powerful Western nations, which seems to slant more towards national chauvinism and xenophobia. Contrary to that narrative, the emerging policy framework in South Africa emphasises a development-oriented, riskfocused and Afrocentric approach aligned with the country’s international relations and cooperation policy as well as our aspirations towards inclusive growth.
Our migration policies must contribute to getting locals employed so they realise the benefits of migration and support our progressive policies, while eradicating xenophobia that may arise from our failure to appreciate the social pressures the poor experience.
The draft white paper makes bold and progressive propositions regarding managing economic migrants from the Southern African Development Community, and we have already laid the basis of that with special permits for Zimbabwean and Lesotho migrants.
Government policy must prioritise citizens with regards to employment and economic opportunities. We expect businesses to prioritise locals, and only employ foreign nationals when the right skills are not available locally.
We recognise that immigrants are an important element of any economy, bringing new skills, knowledge and connections that are valuable. However, the South African economy and the goal of shared wealth cannot be realised on the basis of the unemployment and economic marginalisation of locals. The burden of unemployment falls disproportionately on blacks, women and especially the youth.
It then becomes increasingly difficult to ignore the concerns about businesses that seem to prefer to hire foreign nationals. In addition, some unscrupulous employers seem to prey on vulnerable migrants willing to accept illegal and lower wages, and working conditions. Many of these complaints point to the restaurant, hospitality, construction, agriculture and private security sectors.
A requirement of the business visas we issue to foreign nationals seeking to establish businesses in the country, is that 60% of the staff complement be South African. When home affairs issue work visas to foreign nationals, we do so on condition that the department of labour certifies the company complies with regulations, and publicly advertised the position but could not find a South African willing and capable to fill the role.
The unjust and exclusionary structure of our economy is already a source of racial and class-based tension. We have seen foreign nationals become the victims of violence during times of social tension. We must be vigilant and proactive about preventing situations where migrants are perceived to be in unfair competition with locals.
To take proactive action on these issues, I have begun engaging the leadership of various sectors. This week I met with the hospitality sector. We will not abdicate our regulatory role but our preference, however, is to collaborate with business.
The National Development Plan Vision 2030 emphasises the need for shared vision, trust and cooperation between business, labour and government. It is better for all concerned that we prioritise the employment of locals through dialogue rather than antagonism.
The hospitality sector leadership attributed reluctance by some employers to hire locals to negative perceptions about the work ethic of our workers, and inability to afford the prevailing wages and training costs.
That is why we support the notion of a “minimum wage” for all workers, and shall advocate for immigrant workers to be employed under exactly the same conditions as South African workers.
Gigaba is minister of home affairs