Gauteng Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  30 Jun 2010

LAW: Economy Could Lose Millions Through Work Permit Laws


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Home Affairs’ proposed crackdown on foreign truck drivers crossing the country’s borders without work permits – which is scheduled to come into operation at midnight on June 30, 2010 – will have a serious economic impact on trade within the SADC region, and is likely to cost Southern African countries several millions of rand a day, according to immigration specialist Leon Isaacson of Global Migration SA.

Isaacson estimates that 800 to 1 500 freight trucks pass through Beitbridge, the busy border post between South Africa and Zimbabwe, alone in every 24-hour cycle. Many trucks crossing this and other South African border posts, while doing round trips from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and other African countries and back, are driven by foreign workers employed by South African companies.

Home Affairs’ stricter enforcement of the law requiring that any foreigner employed by a South African firm must have a South African work permit has already resulted in some trucks being halted for periods of up to two days at several border posts within the past week, with potentially crippling financial consequences, especially for carriers of perishable foods and their clients, which include major supermarket chains, Isaacson says. Stoppages implemented on a wide scale will also affect peripheral industries, such as the fuel industry.

He explains that until now foreign drivers have been allowed to transport goods across South Africa’s borders using a visitor’s permit, as many drivers’ routes bring them into the country only once a month.
“While Home Affairs is within its rights to insist that foreign truck drivers should have work permits, as stated in our immigration legislation, communication to the freight industry about the stricter enforcement of the laws has been poor and companies have not been given enough time to apply for permits. We are also aware that Home Affairs currently lacks the capacity to process these applications within the required 30-day turnaround period.”

Isaacson says many companies became aware of the tighter measures only when officials began stopping trucks and asking foreign truck drivers to produce their work permits at borders posts in February and March this year. Although some of the drivers, many of whom speak little English, had been verbally informed of the requirement earlier while crossing the borders, Home Affairs had not officially communicated this to employers in writing, he says.

After effective legal action was taken, more stringent enforcement was postponed until 1 July, 2010. “However, as Home Affairs has not put a proper schedule in place to inform the relevant officials, it is already being enforced at some border posts, resulting in inconsistent and unpredictable processes for the industry.”

Isaacson says that while many of his freight company clients applied for the required permits as soon as they became aware of the situation, they are still waiting for these to be issued. “By law every applicant is entitled to a decision about the issuing of a permit within a 30-day time limit – but on no front is Home Affairs meeting the specified time limit at present, partly because of the World Cup,” he says. “My company has applications that have been pending for three to six months at Home Affairs’ new central hub in Pretoria, where permits are now being processed for the whole country.”

He points out that Home Affairs officials at border posts can issue a visitor’s permit with permission to work, enabling foreign drivers to carry out short assignments in South Africa. However, in phone calls made to various border posts within the past week, his company was informed that officials had been instructed not to issue them, as a full application is now required. This is unlawful, according to Isaacson.

Commenting on the permit law issue in an article published in the Cape Argus, on June 24, 2010, Jackie McKay, head of the Department of Home Affairs’ national immigration branch, reportedly said that “the real issue was that most companies needed to justify why they employed foreigners. …. The SA companies need to tell us why they are not employing South Africans to do the work. These drivers are foreigners who work for SA companies, and any foreigner who works in SA needs a work permit.”

A truck operator, who has been in the industry for many years and has asked not to be named, says about 80% or more of the truck drivers on the north/south route are Zimbabweans as there are not enough South African drivers within the industry and many locals are not willing to spend weeks on the road outside South Africa. “Some of the drivers we employ spend only two or three days loading here, and then three or four weeks outside South Africa.”

He added that some South African drivers abandoned their trucks at the border posts because they were concerned about travelling into parts of Africa that were unknown to them.

In addition there are not many South Africans who know the loading and off-loading points in Zimbabwe and Zambia, or who speak the languages of those countries and are familiar with the customs-clearing processes.
“It’s quite an involved process, not just a matter of getting into a truck and driving it,” he says.

The operator says that his drivers were informed last Saturday that they have five days in which to get permits, otherwise they will not be allowed into South Africa. He says his company has been trying to arrange for work permits to be issued for the past two months, but Home Affairs has not responded to follow-up phone calls. “It’s irresponsible that they don’t respond. We want to get the permits, but they must allow us time to do so and then legalise the whole process,” he says. “We have a serious problem on our hands. They are going to destroy our whole business and close us down.”

Isaacson says, “The issue is the scale of the industry, the stoppages, the panic, the timing, and the fact that Home Affairs has not responded and has not come up with a workable solution which allows for proper application of the law and sufficient capacity within the Department to deal with all the applications that are going to be passed its way.

“The crisis facing the industry is escalating every day, and I’m anticipating mayhem at midnight on June 30, when the border posts are going to be blocked and trucks can’t move.”

He adds that the trucking companies that Global Migration represents, as well as some other companies, have appointed attorneys to take legal action against Home Affairs to resolve the current crisis. The documents are being prepared for submission to the High Court in Pretoria early on Wednesday, 30 June.

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