Migrants make up about 7% of SA labour force, Department of Labour tells Parliament

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The formal sector normally use documented migrants and register them appropriately, but sectors in 'obscure places' of in SA employ un-documented migrants, says the DEL.
The formal sector normally use documented migrants and register them appropriately, but sectors in 'obscure places' of in SA employ un-documented migrants, says the DEL.
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  • The Department of Employment and Labour briefed Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Tourism about migration trends.
  • Especially since 2000, there has been a "dramatic influx" of mainly undocumented migrant workers, a worrying trend for the DEL.
  • These migrants are particularly concentrated in the informal sector.


Migrants constitute about 4% of the population in South Africa and 7% of the country's labour force, according to the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL).

The department made a presentation to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Tourism on Tuesday.   

Migration patterns tracked by the department shows that, especially since 2000, there has been a "dramatic influx" of mainly undocumented migrant workers. A worrying trend for the DEL is that these migrants are particularly concentrated in the informal sector.

The department would like to see access to SA's labour market regulated and monitored via "a flexible quota system", a streamlined and seamless visa regime and strong bilateral and multi-lateral partnerships among SADC countries.

"Support SADC regional labour market initiatives via ring-fenced visa arrangements to the benefit of SADC citizens," the department suggested.

According to the DEL, there is a need to address insufficient and absent policy frameworks, for example, concerning recruitment, data requirements, and labour migration to and from South Africa. An appropriate legislative framework has to accompany the policy in order to provide the mandate for state interventions.

It is, therefore, necessary to review current bilateral labour agreements, in the view of the department.

"The absence of a streamlined policy framework will perpetuate a fragmented and inconsistent approach to labour migration, non-aligned institutional frameworks, irregular labour migration, and the non-acquisition and non-retention of critical skills," the department stated in its presentation.

Insufficient regulatory frameworks, for example regarding recruitment, also need to be addressed.

"Two measures in particular need to be taken. Firstly, there need to be comprehensive consultations, also within government. Secondly, draft legislation aimed at implementing the policy, supported by an explanatory memorandum, is key," the presentation states. "Invest in improved inter-ministerial coordination and integrated service delivery - with the DEL as the lead department for all labour migration aspects."

Sam Morotoba, deputy director general of public employment services at the DEL, told the committee that the issue of foreign nationals is very complex. That is why an inter-ministerial committee was established between various departments to look at the issue.

"We have a serious situation of corruption at our borders, especially in certain areas of SA. It relates to human trafficking, crime and movement of illicit goods," said Morotoba. In his view, there is also a need for a complementary policy to address trading by foreign nationals in the informal sector.

"The formal sector normally use documented migrants and register them appropriately, but sectors in 'obscure places' of our country employ un-documented migrants and do not reflect them on their books. This makes it very difficult to know the exact numbers," explained Morotoba.

"Our Constitution, however, even protects foreign nationals who are not documented, because of their rights as human beings. We cannot turn them away from our hospitals, for example."

He further said SA is part of the SADC community and the wider African community.

"Whatever we do, we need to make sure our actions are within the context of regional integration and cooperation in a balanced way," he said. "We are all affected if we do not manage migration well."

He explained that South African companies which do not follow such a balanced employment approach when it comes to migrant or foreign labour, cause friction among South African labourers. He used truck drivers blocking freeways and demanding local companies must reduce their foreign workforce as an example.

"This [unbalanced] employment approach affects not only the tourism industry, but also agriculture. That is why we need a national strategy and a coordinated migration framework," said Morotoba.

The committee also heard that foreign-born migrants are often employed in the tourism industry because they speak languages needed to communicate with foreign tourists. At the same time, they often earn very low wages and endure bad working conditions due to not being unionised.

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