South Africa is home to an estimated three million Zimbabwean migrants, who constitute the biggest foreign population, following political and economic crises caused by President Robert Mugabe’s failed rule.
Zwelinzima Vavi, Secretary-general of the neighbouring country’s biggest worker movement, said that xenophobia would be re-fuelled if industries relied on expatriates, who he said constituted a significant proportion of informal sector workers.
“Many employers, particularly in construction, catering and farming, exploit the chance to employ vulnerable, sometimes illegal, workers and reduce their labour costs, as well as flouting labour standards or dealing with trade unions,” said Vavi.
“This can generate conflict and tension between South African workers and immigrants, both legal and illegal, and fuel the xenophobia which is emerging in South Africa. Large numbers of vulnerable, informal workers are women, including domestic workers, seasonal workers in agriculture, the retail and catering sectors.”
The COSATU leader said the majority of employers did not comply with labour standards and laws that are supposed to protect the refugees.
“The vast majority of these informal workers are not organised in unions. This makes them vulnerable to many different kinds of exploitation and oppression. The existence of this growing army of unorganised workers inevitably impacts on the power and conditions of unions in the formal sector. It enables employers to reject wage demands by threatening to sack the workers, outsource their operations and hire other workers from labour brokers.”
Vavi accused labour brokers of impoverishing workers.
“Labour broking amounts to the trading of human beings as commodities. They agree with the so-called ‘client’ company to supply them labour for an agreed price, while the true suppliers of the labour, the workers, are excluded from this process, thereby undermining their rights to negotiate wages and employment terms,” he added.
“Apart from undermining collective bargaining rights, labour brokers are also often suppliers of scab labour to replace workers on strike, with the aim of undermining the right to embark on industrial action. COSATU is determined to fight for the banning of this modern form of slavery. So long as labour brokers are allowed to operate freely, the establishment of decent work will remain a pipe-dream.”Post published in: News