News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Tuesday July 16th 2019

Unions upset over import of Chinese labour

Fadela Slamdien

South African trade unions are up in arms over visas granted to over 50 construction workers from mainland China who are building new premises for the Chinese consulate in Cape Town.

But technically, they are not working in South Africa as the land on which the consulate is being built is considered to be Chinese territory, says the Department of Home Affairs.
“That’s probably how they got permission (to import foreign labour). Technically, they are not working in South Africa,” said Rebecca Bowman of the Department of Home Affairs.”
And the law allows the Ministry of Home Affairs the power to grant a foreigner the right to reside in the country if special circumstances exist, according to immigration experts. Normally, foreigners applying for a work permit would need to prove that there are no South Africans with the necessary skills to do the job.

The Chinese workers have all been issued with special “staff member of consulate” visas, which are similar to diplomatic visas, according to the Chinese vice consul, Yan Li.
“The construction has been approved by the South African government. This includes the plans and the use of (foreign) workers,” she said, adding it was “normal” for consulates and embassies to import Chinese labour for construction projects in foreign countries.

Lesiba Seshoka, spokesperson of the National Union of Mine workers (NUM) – under which the construction industry falls – said the union had lodged a written complaint with the Department of Labour.
“It is about cheap labour and exploitation”, he said, adding that China had a reputation for exploiting workers’ rights.

Page Boikanyo, Senior Executive Manager of Communication from the Department of Labour, confirmed the department would investigate the matter.

The workers, whose ranks include ordinary labourers, live in prefabricated accommodation on the site, where construction began in 2007 and will continue until April 2011.

Residents said it was not unusual to see Chinese workers walking down the roads in the area.
“They sleep in these prefabs, it’s shocking,” said a neighbour who lives close to the consulate. “Every single person on that site is from China, They are living and squatting there,” the woman, who asked not to be named, said Patrick Craven, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) national spokesperson, also slammed the importing of foreign labour.
“We argue strongly against it. We hope that the South African government finds a way of discouraging unnecessary employment of foreign labour,” he said.

The use of cheap Chinese labour on projects funded by China in foreign countries is a growing problem, especially in Africa and Asia, where poverty is rife and unemployment high.
The Chinese government last year confirmed that there were almost 750 000 Chinese workers in foreign countries, and the figures this year are set to reach similar levels, according to the New York Times.

“From Angola to Uzbekistan, Iran to Indonesia, some 740 000 Chinese workers were abroad at the end of 2008,” according to the NYT, with the Chinese Commerce Ministry reporting that 58 percent of these workers were “sent out last year alone”.

The use of Chinese labour is causing increasing anger and resentment in some developing nations, sometimes resulting in violent protests. Vietnam and India have gone as far as to impose labour laws which restrict the number of Chinese workers entering their country.

This is not the only controversy affecting the new consulate. Residents in the area have complained about noise caused by the construction, which sometimes continued seven days a week. Several complained about the disruption and noise, but spoke on condition of anonymity.

When they complained to the Cape Town city council they were told “it is out of our hands” and that the issue needed to be addressed to national government, one resident said.
“As local rate payers, we pay a fortune and we have to conform to certain bylaws. But these guys come along and are granted this foreign soil status by the national government, and they can seemingly do as they please.”

Residents said they were initially informed of the construction via a flyer placed in their post boxes by the consulate.
“This is an abnormal development. Why was there no compromising with the neighbours for the length of time and the duration?” asked another resident.

But people who complained admitted that the Chinese consulate has been cooperative “within reason” and have done what they could to accommodate neighbours’ complaints about noise.

“They have said they will try and keep the noise down and they won’t start before 7am.”

Tags: Chinese Consulate, Chinese labour, Department of Home Affairs, Page Boikanyo, Rebecca Bowman, Yan Li

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One Response to “Unions upset over import of Chinese labour”

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