A comprehensive debate is needed on the impact foreign nationals have on employment statistics, the Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour has heard.

Minister Thulas Nxesi led a strong delegation from the department and its entities to present the department’s third quarter expenditure. Members asked questions about various issues, including the latest unemployment statistics.

Mr Nxesi told the committee that employers often opted to employ foreign nationals, many of whom are desperate for work. “The intention is to exploit desperate workers. These things need an open debate because part of the problem is that the matter has not been properly debated.”

He said the challenge was no longer confined to the hospitality industry, but now included the private security, agriculture and retail sectors. “Taking over private security has a potential to compromise the security of the country. Of course there are global governance and trade issues. How does one deal with free trade without being labelled as xenophobic? Which country would prioritise foreign nationals ahead of its citizens?” Mr Nxesi said.

The Chairperson of the Committee, Ms Lindelwa Dunjwa, agreed with him, saying the debate on the employment of foreign nationals in certain sectors is urgent. The debate should be guided by accurate data, she cautioned.

“The issue of the debate is urgent so that we are able to give direction. This is a matter that could result in challenges for government. Also Parliament could be accused of being irresponsible,” said Ms Dunjwa. “This challenge is not a secret. We should follow the process and take responsibility. We must have facts on all sectors.”

The committee is aware that South Africa is a signatory on various treaties and bi-laterals, Ms Dunjwa said. There is nothing xenophobic about such a debate, she said.

Committee Member Mr Xolani Ngwezi raised similar concerns on sectors that no longer employ South Africans. “You hardly find South Africans in the hospitality and private security industries. These are the kinds of jobs that do not require specialised skills. These are basic things that anybody could do,” Mr Ngwezi said.

He asked whether the department would consider special regulations on the matter. Mr Nxesi replied that the department applied strong sanctions during inspections if it found fraudulent papers.

Sibongile Maputi
21 August 2019