Priest says South Africa’s Jobs Bill restricting overseas employment stems from ‘xenophobia’

YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon — A jobs quota bill that would limit the number of foreign workers who can work in South Africa is being compared to apartheid by members of opposition parties.

The National Labor Migration Policy and Employment Services Bill aims to meet, in the words of the government, the “expectations of South Africans regarding access to employment opportunities, given the increase in unemployment and the perception that foreign nationals distort access to the labor market”.

The bill “will introduce quotas on the total number of documented foreign nationals with work visas who can be employed in major economic sectors such as agriculture, hospitality and tourism, construction, etc.”

Michael Cordo, an opposition Democratic Alliance MP, questioned the ruling ANC on the issue on Wednesday, comparing it to “apartheid-era job reservation”.

Employment and Labor Minister Thulas Nxesi rejected the comparison.

“It may seem so, but it is not. Apartheid policy was racial. It’s not racial. It is about preserving the interests of South Africans. You are proposing this because employers in sectors that want to exploit cheap labor want this to continue,” the minister said.

However, Fr Peter-John Pearson, director of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office, said the policy stems from “the growing xenophobic trend in South Africa, particularly in terms of jobs and access to scarce resources.”

“Recently, in local elections, political parties espousing xenophobic rhetoric made substantial inroads in communities and won several percentage points and therefore seats in local government,” the priest said. Node.

He acknowledged that the policy proposal has been in the works for some time and is positioned as a “balancing act, holding together the need to create and certainly not block employment for South Africans”.

But Pearson dismissed the insinuation that South Africans cannot find jobs because the jobs have been taken by foreigners.

“This job theft narrative is probably the one that superficially seems to capture most people’s imaginations. It’s not entirely clear, although there may be parts that could be interpreted as such,” he said.

“It should be kept in mind, in addition to other factors, that many workplaces, especially informal and semi-formal ones, employ South Africans. There is considerable research to back this up. Furthermore, the figures show that it is not just foreigners who are grabbing jobs, other factors play a role. Just keep in mind that foreigners make up only 7% of the population and the unemployment rate is 35%, so the impact is not limited to foreign nationals. Other serious factors also come into play,” the priest continued.

“Obviously the foreigners are not to blame per se,” he said.

The cleric said it was clear that the South African government had introduced the bill to fulfill its obligation to provide employment to the people as well as its “international obligations in terms of international protocols which oblige the country to ensure the well-being of the population”. refugees and asylum seekers”.

“The government believes this proposal will cover both requirements,” he said.

The government also argues that the reform will actually help vulnerable foreign workers from being exploited, which Pearson acknowledges is necessary.

In a March 2022 briefing, the cleric said that “since migrant groups rarely have the opportunity to defend themselves, they have become easy targets for extremist groups seeking opportunities to advance their agenda. Politics”.

In the paper, Pearson noted that few policymakers want to take risks on such a contentious issue, and during times of economic crisis they may simply choose to repatriate foreign workers and close the doors on migration.

“This happened recently in Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, for example, but has also happened in other parts of the world. Even the most responsible political parties are known to play the “migration card” in order to win more votes.

Talk to NodePearson said many foreign nationals in South Africa are exploited by “unscrupulous companies”.

“The exploitation of workers – especially non-unionized black workers – is an integral part of South Africa’s history. This obviously needs to be stopped. The reality is that there is enough legislation to cover cases of exploitation and poor working conditions to reverse the trend without this legislation. He doesn’t specifically need this legislation,” he said.

The public consultation period for the National Labor Migration Policy and Employment Services Bill will continue until the summer, when it will be considered by the South African parliament. .

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