Anger rises at use of Chinese labour for build
Technically, they are not on SA soil
SOUTH African trade unions are up in ar ms over visas granted to more than 50 construction workers from mainland China who are building new premises for the Chinese consulate in Newlands.
Technically, however, they are not working in South Africa as the land on which the consulate is being built is considered to be Chinese territory, says the Department of Home Affairs.
“That’s probably how they got permission (to import foreign labour). Technically, they are not working in South Africa,” said Rebecca Bowman, of the Department of Home Affairs.”
And the law allows the Ministry of Home Affairs the power to grant a foreigner the right to reside in the country if special circumstances exist, according to immigration experts. Normally, foreigners applying for a work permit would need to prove there are no South Africans with the necessary skills to do the job.
The Chinese workers have all been issued with special “staff member of consulate” visas, which are similar to diplomatic visas, according to the Chinese vice-consul, Yan Li.
“The construction has been approved by the South African government. This includes the plans and the use of (foreign) workers,” she said, adding it was “normal” for consulates and embassies to import Chinese labour for construction projects in foreign countries.
Lesiba Seshoka, spokesman for the National Union of Mine workers (NUM) – under which the construction industry falls – said the union had lodged a written complaint with the Department of Labour.
“It is about cheap labour and exploitation”, he said, adding that China had a reputation for exploiting workers’ rights.
Page Boikanyo, senior executive manager of communication from the Department of Labour, confir med that the department would investigate the matter.
The workers, whose ranks include ordinary labourers, live in prefabricated accommodation on the site, where construction began in 2007 and will continue until April 2011.
Residents said it was not unusual to see Chinese workers walking down the roads in the area.
“They sleep in these prefabs; it’s shocking,” said a neighbour who lives close to the consulate. “Every single person on that site is from China. They are living and squatting there,” the woman, who asked not to be named, said.
Patrick Craven, Cosatu national spokesman, also slammed the importing of foreign labour.
“We argue strongly against it. We hope that the South African government finds a way of discouraging unnecessary employment of foreign labour,” he said.
The use of cheap Chinese labour on projects funded by China in foreign countries is a growing issue, especially in Africa and Asia, where poverty is rife and unemployment high.
The Chinese gover nment last year confirmed that there were almost 750 000 Chinese workers in foreign countries.
Residents in the area have complained about noise caused by the construction, which sometimes continues seven days a week. Several complained about the disruption and noise, but spoke on condition of anonymity.
When they complained to the Cape Town City Council they were told “it is out of our hands” and that the issue needed to be addressed by the national government, one resident said.
“As local ratepayers, we pay a fortune and we have to conform to certain bylaws. But these guys come along and are granted this foreign soil status by the national government, and they can seemingly do as they please.”
But people who complained admitted that the Chinese consulate had been co-operative “within reason” and had done what they could to accommo date neighbours’ complaints about noise.
“They have said they will try and keep the noise down.” – West Cape News