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South Africa: National Symposium on Migration

18 December 2015
Group of participants at the symposium
PSI South Africa affiliates commemorate December 18 Migrants Day with a National Symposium on the theme of “Decent Work and Social Protection for Migrant Workers in the Public Services.”

The symposium was held on 14th December 2015 in Johannesburg, bringing together around 60 participants from PSI unions DENOSA, NEHAWU, NUPSAW, SAMWU, HOSPERSA, NPSWU, representatives from civil society organisations working with migrants and the South Africa Department of Home Affairs.

“We are organising the symposium as a way to highlight the positive aspects of migration, tackle the issues and challenges that migrant workers in the public services are facing, share information and experiences, build networks and alliances and lay the foundation for further deliberation and engagement on issues of migration,” says Patrick Malatji, Acting PSI Sub-Regional Secretary for Southern Africa. “A lot needs to be done but we are encouraged by our affiliates’ commitment to tackle these issues, working alongside government agencies and partners in civil society,” he says.

At the symposium, participants raised the various challenges that migrant workers face, such as the difficulties in the registration process for many migrant nurses and care workers coming to South Africa, the need for training, cases of discrimination at work and the problem of job security. Unions also identified a number of challenges in organising migrant workers. Out-sourcing of public services and the prevalence of temporary and contract work are among the biggest problems. Often, migrant workers are afraid to join unions or file complaints in cases of violations because they are afraid that this will risk their migration status. Likewise, legislative gaps and lack of information on relevant provisions of the law pertaining to migrant workers were also seen as a problem. Migrant workers are not aware of their rights and are therefore not able to exercise them.

The representative from the Department of Home Affairs acknowledged the valuable work that the unions are doing to address the gaps in information and in organising of migrant workers.  At present, the department is involved in various awareness-raising activities on migration issues.

PSI affiliates in Africa are currently working on a comprehensive information kit for migrant workers that include pre-decision information, employment conditions, a passport highlighting workers’ rights and an information kit on return and reintegration. The kits will be finalised and launched in the coming months.

“We had a robust debate with a wide range of views, from government representatives to union members, as well as migrant worker representatives.  Issues of migration are steadily surfacing and given attention. This is a positive outcome and we will certainly keep this momentum going,” says Ritta Thandeka Msibi, Deputy President of PSI affiliate DENOSA and PSI Vice President for Africa and Arab Region.

The meeting agreed on the following outcomes:

  • The Department of Home Affairs (DoHA) will include PSI in its activities intended to promote information-sharing on the rights and welfare of migrant workers, including the procedures for registration;  
  • PSI to continue its work on Ethical Recruitment, ensuring broad participation of trade unions, government actors, and civil society;
  • PSI to promote government to government bilateral agreement as a way to better regulate recruitment, check on unscrupulous recruiters and ensure ethical recruitment of migrant workers coming to South Africa;
  • Strengthen links within the trade union movement and other migrant organisations within and outside South Africa; and
  • PSI affiliates to vigorously continue its awareness campaigns on migration and migrant workers’ rights.


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