Labour department to impose quotas for foreign nationals in some sectors
Opposition MPs question whether it's the appropriate time for government to be setting sectoral employment equity targets
The government is planning to restrict the number of foreign nationals working in a particular sectors of the economy.
Employment policy being developed by the department of employment and labour could give the minister the legal right to set sectoral targets or quotas for foreign nationals in certain 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 on Thursday.
“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 & labour minister Thulas Nxesi said it was well known that in agriculture, restaurants and the private security and hospitality industries that employers preferred to hire foreign nationals. In some cases this had to do with skills, but in others 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.
Finance minister Tito Mboweni has also urged that South Afrians be employed in restaurants.
The discussion, in response to a question by DA labour spokesperson Michael Cardo, took place during a briefing by Lamati on the department’s annual strategic and performance plans.
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.”
The annual performance plan includes the enactment and implementation of the amendments to the Employment Equity Act which were tabled in parliament earlier in 2020. 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 economic activity, as we try to boost the productivity of the companies, I don’t think the transformation agenda should be put aside. I think we should drive these things concurrently. It is still very important that transformation must be effected in the labour market,” Lamati said.
DA MPs questioned whether 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.
Lamati said the department also planned to develop a new code of good practice to eliminate harassment and violence in the workplace by March 31 2021.