National Labour Migration Policy is open for public comment

Plans for various employer obligations for skills transfer and limited duration work permits.

​Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi has released the National Labour Migration Policy (NLMP) for public comment and engagement, saying the initiative seeks to strike a balance between conflicting interests.

“It has become increasingly apparent, with the rapid expansion of international migration flows, that South Africa needs to develop appropriate policy effectively to manage this. South Africa is not immune to international migration trends as well as attempts to exploit this for political gain. Our response is to develop an effective NLMP,” he said.

According to Nxesi, while Higher Education and Training has released a list of scarce and critical skills in high demand to provide guidance to all institutions, the government will also impose various obligations on both the employer and the foreign national to transfer skills to locals, and permits will be limited to specific durations.

The Department of Employment and Labour has published a gazette on its website on the National Labour Migration Policy. The department through its Public Employment Services (PES) branch has developed the draft for the consultations that will lay the basis to engage with stakeholders in a series of national consultations/dialogues.

Through the draft NLMP the department seeks to guide and co-ordinate the development process leading to the adoption of South Africa’s labour migration strategy. The department has identified government departments as key stakeholders to initiate the process. More social partners and other key stakeholders will be engaged in the next few months as the dialogue unfolds.

The minister said the government has researched extensively and benchmarked internationally in search of policy based on best practice, adding that the policy was an outcome of a Cabinet process and consultation with social partners.

He urged all social parties to use the next 90 days to submit their inputs.

“The National Labour Migration Policy goes hand in hand with a proposed Employment Services (ES) Amendment Bill providing a policy framework and the legal basis to regulate the extent to which employers can employ foreign nationals in their establishments while protecting the rights of migrants,” he said.

The proposed amendments to the Employment Services Act (of 2014) aim to limit the extent to which employers can employ the number of foreign nationals in possession of a valid work visa in their employment and stipulate the obligations of an employer engaging foreign workers. 

The minister said the proposed ES Amendment Bill proposes a framework that will enable the minister to set quotas for employment of foreign nationals. He said a quota in a sector will be set after consultation with the Employment Services Board and after considering public comments.

The development of the draft NLMP has its genesis in the 2013 Employment and Labour Sector (ELS) of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the tripartite structure under the SADC ministries of employment and labour, when they adopted an action plan on labour migration.

According to the minister, the policy aims to achieve a balance in addressing South Africans’ expectations regarding access to work opportunities, given worsening unemployment and the perception that foreign nationals are distorting labour market access, while introducing quotas on sectors such as agriculture, hospitality and tourism, construction, etc.

He said the policy will be complemented by small business intervention and enforcement of a list of sectors where foreign nationals cannot be allocated business visas and amendments to the Small Business Act to limit foreign nationals establishing small medium and micro enterprises and trading in some sectors of the economy.

The Department of Home Affairs is also reviewing current legislation and strengthening the Border Management Authority to secure porous borders and to allow for the orderly movement of people and other nationals through ports of entry only.

Department of Employment and Labour deputy director-general Sam Morotoba has warned that if labour migration was not handled carefully the consequences would be dire.

Morotoba said South Africa was among the top highest hosting countries for migrants. He said South Africa was also faced with the problem of the highest number of over-stayers (people who come to the country and never leave), with figures by the United Nations in 2021 showing the number has grown to 1.6-million.

Morotoba said the department seeks to consult thoroughly before going back to Nedlac and Cabinet in the middle of the year for the refinement of inputs.