On 27 May 2022 SERI and LHR made a submission to the national Department of Employment and Labour on the draft National Labour Migration Policy and the Employment Services Amendment Bill that was released for public comment on 28 February 2022.
Although SERI and LHR acknowledge that there is some merit to bringing clarity to issues in the formal employment relationship, and although we agree with government on the need to address the high rate of unemployment in the country, our critique of the policy and Bill relates largely to the following, which we set out in greater detail in the submission:
- The contemplated restrictions to the right to work go against South Africa’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) that protects the right to work regardless of nationality, legal status and documentation. The proposed measures are also inconsistent with various rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.
- The policy and Bill aim to regulate a broad spectrum of sectors and skills-levels (from critical skills to low-skilled work) under the same umbrella legislation, therefore not considering sector-specific challenges and nuances, as well as potentially varied outcomes.
- The policy and Bill are premised on a false assumption that the solution to the high unemployment facing the country lies in the restriction of migrant work and the reservation of opportunities for South African workers. This assumption has been repeatedly debunked through research and is also not supported in consultations that SERI and LHR have done with client groups in preparing this submission. It is a proposal that misses the complexity of the problem as well as its structural underpinnings.
- Pitting local workers against migrant workers, whether in public discourse or proposed legislation, has the potential to further fuel xenophobic tensions. This does not imply a lack of sympathy for South Africans who are struggling under the weight of unemployment, but this narrative shifts the full blame for unemployment onto migrants, while the reality is more complex and structural.
This submission is informed by consultations with partners and clients from three sectors or interest groups: domestic workers, farm workers, and refugees and asylum seekers. As set out in the submission, in all three groups we found large-scale opposition to restrictions placed on the right to work of foreign nationals.
SERI and LHR therefore argue for a substantial reconceptualisation of the NLMP and Bill in relation to how its provisions affect the right to work of migrants, particularly in low-skilled work.
The submission is endorsed by ten organisations and networks.
- Download the full submission here.