Sam Morotoba, the deputy director general of labour responsible for the development and implementation of policy, has said it was necessary both to deal with the crisis of lack of jobs in South Africa and to ensure that the country met its commitments as a member of the Southern African Development Community to develop such a policy.
A new Policy would seek to cap the percentage of foreigners employed per sector, with the process being “sensitive to the needs of each sector” and taking into account issues such as the salary scale in sectors and the effect on each sector.
Morotoba said the department was not seeking a “one-size-fits-all” solution with blanket quotas imposed across economic sectors, but rather an approach that “takes into consideration special needs and circumstances”.
Morotoba declined to comment on the Huawei Technologies South Africa case where the communication technology company reportedly employed 90% foreigners and 10% locals, because it was still before court at the time of the interview, but said the department had come across cases where companies employed 100% foreign workers, many of them undocumented and unregistered.
Presently, the compliance by foreign employers is monitored through their employment equity reports, a process that was limited by the fact that it was mainly the listed companies which complied, leaving a large number of employers outside the system.
At present, home affairs regulations allow foreign companies that are first time investors to have higher percentages of foreign workers for a five-year period, after which they are required to take on South African staff.
“The issue is about creating employment. How do you have an investment that has a staff consisting of 100% foreign nationals producing goods that are being consumed locally?” Morotoba said.
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Morotoba said that for the labour migration policy to work, there would have to be improved coordination between the departments of labour, home affairs, law enforcement and other roleplayers, along with additional human resources.
The plan to change the manner in which the departments worked together — ending the approach of working in isolation — would allow the policy to be implemented “with existing capacity or a slight increment of it”.
He said South Africa could not afford to continue without a proper policy in place to control labour migration. The cost of enforcing the amended legislation would be far less than the cost of leaving the situation unchecked, he said.
Thus far, the department had received more than 100 submissions from interested parties, which were being considered as part of the comment process, he said. These would determine the eventual quotas imposed by the department.
“We are still inviting submissions and we can only determine that once we have received all the submissions, but when you make a law it is applicable to all sectors of the economy. Sectors that feel that it may be problematic — or that certain aspects may be problematic — are free to make submissions and provide their reasons,” Morotoba said.
At present, there are 2.9-million documented foreigners in the country — not all of them in the labour force, he said. Current figures indicated that 7% of the labour force was made up of non-South Africans.
However, it was very difficult to provide a real figure because of the large number of undocumented foreign nationals who were being employed without any official records, Morotoba added.
He insisted that quotas would not have the unintended consequence of creating skills shortages in certain sectors, as shifts in education and training and skills development would ensure that new entrants to the job market had these skills.
Moreover, the critical skills list would continue to exist, allowing companies to import certain skills once they proved that they had attempted — and failed — to secure them locally.
Companies would also be required to invest in skills transfer in areas of scarcity as part of the skills development plan to ensure the opportunity to empower South Africans to do the work in the longer term.