Anger rises at use of Chi­nese labour for build

Tech­ni­cally, they are not on SA soil

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - FADELA SLAM­DIEN

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

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