Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Beneficiary of illegal-migration

Private Sector the primary beneficiary of Illegal-Migration
Nyiko Floyd Shivambu

A component which almost the whole of society has been inattentive to in the wake of the violent xenophobic and tribal attacks that happened in South Africa’s poverty stricken informal settlements and townships is the whole issue of the political economy of labour. Immigration into South Africa’s cities and economic centres is largely for socio-economic purposes. People from around the continent and poorer provinces migrate to areas with economic potential in search of better lives, jobs and economic opportunities. That is undeniably the major reason for inter and intra-migration into South African areas with economic potential.

In the 2005 State of the Nation Address, the President of the Republic Thabo Mbeki hinted on the possibility of reviewing labour laws to allow for more flexibility as the incumbent labour laws and regulations were too stringent for higher levels of growth. This perspective was pursued within the African National Congress (ANC) National General Council through a discussion document, which was fiercely rejected. The response of government leadership and those who preferred a two-tier labour system was quite worrying with the President suggesting that it is sad that the General Council of the ANC rejected the proposal of flexible labour as a catalyst of investments, growth and employment.

Almost all advices by the supposed International Think-Tanks, such as the Harvard Group, on South Africa’s economic planning sought to suggest that the country’s protective labour regime is not conducive for investments, and growth. This is located within government’s strange obsession with a supposition that economic growth is solely the panacea to all developmental challenges. So the need to make labour cheaper in South Africa has underpinned government’s approach to the economic growth and planning, yet without success due to strong opposition from the Progressive Labour movement in South Africa.

Now government’s lacklustre approach to illegal immigration could be squarely located within the relentless struggle to make labour cheaper and reducing the cost of doing big business for business. The extent at which South Africa’s mines, factories, farms, retailers, construction industries, and at some instances, public institutions benefit from cheap migrant-labour is quite substantial. How do you explain the possibility of approximately 3 million undocumented migrants in one country? That’s a size bigger than most of South Africa’s neighbouring countries such as Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho. The undocumented migrants are used as reserves for cheap labour in South Africa’s mines, factories, farms, retail stores, construction industries, etc. The two-tier labour system, which is favoured by the incumbent government, is in this context a reality as illegal migrant-labourers are not protected by the labour laws, including the prescriptions of minimum wages for mine and farm workers.

It appears from this observation that the primary beneficiary of illegal migrant labour is the private sector, as they utilise the almost free labour sold by migrant workers. The private sector, mainly the private security industry, mines, farms and construction is the primary beneficiary of illegal-migration. This is often at the expense of communities as illegal immigrants are not eligible to access the State delivered houses, healthcare, education, safety and security and so forth. What is worrying though is government’s response and reaction to the phenomenon of illegal and socio-economic migration. The regulation and monitoring by the country’s Labour Department over the reality of illegal-migrant labour is almost non-existent. The boarders are almost non-existent, whilst systems to address migration are ineffective. Government’s response to the attacks is on re-integration into mainly illegal communities, so that the cheap labour provided by mainly illegal immigrants is not disturbed. The puzzle of socio-economic migration into South Africa should be given a thorough thought by all stakeholders involved, not a knee-jerk response on re-integration.

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