Hire foreigners illegally, ‘face the music’ warns Nxesi as road freight blitz puts 11 behind bars

Fin 24 – 26 July 2022

  • Eleven undocumented foreign workers were arrested in a government ‘mega blitz’ on the road freight sector in the North West province – adding to more than 200 foreign drivers already arrested this year for operating illegally. 
  • This comes amid rising tension in the trucking industry which is believed to have cost the economy some R300 million. 
  • The ‘blitzes’ are part of a bigger government crackdown on non-compliance with labour laws, though the inter-ministerial committee on trucking and logistics also has an 11-point plan to try to deal with tensions in the road freight sector. 

Over 50 contravention notices were issued and 11 undocumented foreign workers arrested in a week-long blitz on the road freight sector in Potchefstroom, North West, the Department of Employment and Labour has said.

The crackdown, which wrapped up this week, is part of a series of so-called ‘mega blitz’ inspections the department is carrying out across the country to ensure compliance with labour laws. According to government, the manufacturing sector will be up next.

The road freight blitz was a joint effort between the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), the South African Police Service (SAPS), and the National Bargaining Council for the Road Freight and Logistics Industry (NBCRFLI).

A spokesperson for the Department of Employment and Labour said among some 180 employers who were inspected, the 50 notices issued included a range of offences from underpayment to illegal deductions, safety violations, and the hiring of undocumented workers. One of the employers risked employees’ lives with a violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act’s regulations on electrical installations, said Inspector General Aggy Moiloa.

‘Most’ employers underpaying

“What we discovered during these inspections is that most employers are underpaying their employees, making illegal deductions, and failing to provide their employees with payslips and employment contracts.

“We have since issued them with contravention notices, and we expect them to correct this within the time frames specified,” said Moiloa.

Roadblock blitz

Earlier in the week, four undocumented foreign nationals were arrested at a roadblock along the busy N12 route. This followed the arrest of seven others on Wednesday at a local company.

All are due to appear in the Potchefstroom Magistrate’s Court.

While it was the workers who were arrested, Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said employers who hired undocumented workers would “face the music”.

“We have already found that several truck drivers are undocumented – are not paid in terms of the collective agreements and are not registered for the unemployment insurance fund. We are warning employers to ensure that they abide by the labour laws or face the music,” he said.

Several ministers had last month committed to intensifying their attention on the employment of undocumented foreign nationals, he added.

The minister’s remarks on exploitative labour practices have an unlikely ally in local truckers, who have complained that foreign nationals are often favoured for jobs because they are easier to exploit. The road freight sector has seen rising unrest over a period of years, which has intensified in recent months, as truck drivers protest the hiring of foreign workers.

In June, the Road Freight Association wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa in desperation to ask for urgent intervention as protesting truckers blockaded some of SA’s key cargo routes.

While the N3 was a major target, the letter also highlighted delays on the N17, N11, N2, R59, and R74.

Amid the shutdown, motorists were also warned to avoid the N12 in the North West – in the area where four of the abovementioned workers were arrested – as truckers blockaded the road in protest against the hiring of foreign drivers.

It has been estimated that the truck driver protests have cost the SA economy up to R300 million.

At the end of June, the inter-ministerial committee on trucking and logistics – which comprises the ministers of transport and home affairs, police and labour – said over 200 foreign truck drivers had been arrested since the beginning of the year for operating unlawfully.

The committee was formed in 2019 in response to protests in the trucking industry. The committee said it had an 11-point action plan, one of which was to enforce visa requirements and other regulations, as well as labour laws, in the sector. 

www.samigration.com

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