Cape Town - South Africa has seen its share of deadly and bloody xenophobic outbursts.
On the one hand, the hatred has been fueled by leaders in the country, recklessly proclaiming that 'foreigners must pack their bags and go home'.
On the other, the negative stereotypes exist questioning the work ethic of South African citizens over and above that of foreign migrant workers - with 'perceptions that businesses exploit migrants to lower wages and conditions, while locals suffer in a sea of poverty and want'.
It's a recipe for disaster, and for a long time, SA's hospitality industry has been caught in this negative space as it employs a fair amount of foreign nationals - with construction fingered as another sector of concern.
SEE: DHA: What you need to know about SA's new international migration policy plans
However the Department of Home Affairs says it is working progressively with industry stakeholders to avoid any crisis around the idea that foreign workers enjoy preference over locals in certain sectors - with Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba, admitting that the proactive approach was required as the issue of immigration had not been effectively managed before.
'Industry must honour the requirement to employ 60% South African citizens'
Speaking at a meeting of industry associations, which included the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa, Restaurant Association of South Africa and National Accommodation Association, Gigaba confirmed stakeholders had agreed to honour the requirement to employ 60% South African citizens in all departments represented.
"The burning issue is that many businesses, particularly in the construction and hospitality sectors, do not hire South African workers, preferring migrants," Gigaba says.
"This carries potential to fuel perceptions that businesses exploit migrants to lower wages and conditions, while locals suffer in a sea of poverty and want."
However FEDHASA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa says one of the biggest hurdles facing the industry was how to overcome this perception that foreign workers outnumber South Africans in certain areas of the hospitality as there is no quantifiable study to deny or support this perception.
Part of the way forward in meeting with the DHA is to establish this sort of study and industry analysis, he says.
Gigaba also said that the stereotype damages and undermines South Africa’s economic and developmental goals as outlined in the National Development Plan.
"Especially in the current global financial and economic situation, volatility and slow growth, rolling back the tide of inequality, unemployment and poverty are extremely important. Job-creation is prioritised in the National Development Plan, as a step towards eliminating poverty and inequality."
With reference to the specific 60% immigration regulation amendment made in 2014, Tshivhengwa says the industry need to be more proactive in ensuring this.
'This does not mean non-south Africans or foreigners can’t be hired'
“This does not mean non-south Africans or foreigners can’t be hired, it just means the laws need to be applied properly.” Added to this international and South African businesses must ensure the percentage complies with special skills business visa rules and requirements, he says.
SEE: Lesotho Special Permit: Success as SA aims to address immigration regionally
'Nurture the concept of upward mobility'
But Tshivhengwa says there is also the concern that South Africans also don’t really want to work as waiters or cleaners for instance.
"How do we professionalise our industry and give these sorts of jobs a certification?'"
He says the industry needs to address this and make South Africans look at these sorts of jobs as something worth doing, as well as nurture the concept of upward mobility."
He adds it then boils down to the concept of minimum wage of these low-skilled jobs.
“FEDHASA’s code of conduct includes sectorial determination, which sees an assessment of wages within the industry to which Fedhasa members must apply.
“It is the concern about outsiders or non-FEDHASA members who are self-regulating – who do not comply with this or the foreigner employment ratio, further fueling these negative perception that the entire industry is non-compliant.”
Tshivhengwa believes the key is working with the DHA as well as the department of Tourism to overcome the high cost of enforcement, to ensure compliance across the industry.
Plan going forward
A consensus was reached between the DHA and the hospitality stakeholders to prioritise citizens on employment and various economic opportunities at the recent meeting, the DHA says.
Practical steps to ensure job-creation are to "include an increase in both quality and quantity of employment, to roll-back the frontiers of rising unemployment, particularly for the young".
Practical steps agreed on in the first meeting include:
That employees will respond urgently and sensitively to the concerns raised by citizens regarding the sector.
That there will be an improvement in employment practices, with citizens prioritised, and not prejudiced. For citizens, these issues are fundamental as they relate to satisfying their human needs as they impact greatly on living standards.
Enforce, with support of the associations, rules and regulations.
Stakeholder engagement for dissemination of information, legislation and regulations.
Target businesses for inspections and impose penalties accordingly. Section 49 (3) of the Immigration Act, 2002 stipulates that anyone who knowingly employs an illegal foreigner or a foreigner in violation of this Act shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment as determined by the courts.
SEE: New Zealand visa changes: The first of many new visa restrictions for SA immigration?
Gigaba reiterated that government would ensure proper monitoring mechanisms are in place, as well as urged all leaders to be mindful of what they say in public. The DHA said it would be meeting with the construction and agriculture industry next to address the same concerns.
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