Rantšo launches labour migration policy

Rantšo launches labour migration policy

MASERU – THE Ministry of Labour and Employment has launched a National Labour Migration Policy that seeks to protect Basotho migrant workers in foreign countries. The policy also seeks to protect foreign migrant labourers in Lesotho.
Labour Minister Keketso Rantšo, in a preface to the policy document issued last week, says available research “shows us that the legacy of the migrant labour system has overally been negative for Lesotho”.

“Our burden of occupational disease, particularly tuberculosis and silicosis, stands among the highest in the world relative to our population,” Rantšo says. “The share of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to migrant workers’ remittances continues to be extremely high (at 15.1 percent) inducing a situation of dependency.

“Income from migrant labour has only had minimal poverty alleviation impact and has also raised considerable challenges in terms of reintegration of returned workers into our labour market.”

Rantšo said in the meantime, Lesotho has become host to increasing numbers of migrant workers from South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and the People’s Republic of China.
“Most of these migrant workers are skilled and either follow investment in retail, textile or construction for instance, or are refugees with a professional background,” she says.

Rantšo says Lesotho needs a completely different approach to the management of labour migration, “one which is strategic and proactive, protective of its citizens in their efforts to secure and benefit from employment abroad but also capable of attracting and retaining skills”.
The policy says for most of the 20th century, Basotho migrant workers “made up a substantive share of the workforce on South African mines and farms and a key component of the migrant labour system”.

However, in the 1990s and 2000s political changes in South Africa led to restructuring in the mines and the gradual phasing out of foreign labour with the adoption of the South African Mining Charter in 2002.
With thousands of Basotho men retrenched from the mines, migration was feminised and scores of Basotho migrant workers concentrated on vulnerable sectors and occupations.

Also the narrowing of legal avenues for labour migration and continued dependency on remittances to GDP have characterised emigration from Lesotho over the past 20 years. In an effort to deal with the matter, the policy seeks to address the inter-ministerial coordination, modernisation of the work permit system and better protection of migrant workers in Lesotho through education, sensitisation and training of workers and strengthening labour inspection.

The policy also seeks to regulate recruitment of Basotho for employment abroad and to strengthen bilateral agreements aligned to international standards and Lesotho’s employment priorities.

The policy calls for the government to effectively and efficiently protect “Basotho migrant workers and their families throughout the migration cycle” and to support “quality bilateral labour agreements with countries subscribing to similar values and principles whilst enforcing the principles of equality of treatment between Basotho and migrant workers in Lesotho”.

Analysis in the 2017 Labour Migration Management Assessment shows that in 1995 the South African government offered access to permanent residence to 51 000 mine workers from across the region, and in 1996 to 175 000 general citizens from SADC under specific conditions.
The Labour Ministry says although it does not know the exact numbers, “a few thousand Basotho citizens benefitted from these measures”.
With the retrenchment of 83 000 Basotho migrant mineworkers in South Africa between 1987 and 2013, “many Basotho households, particularly in rural Lesotho, have become more vulnerable”.

In 2016, following an agreement between the Ministries of Home Affairs of Lesotho and South Africa, a special dispensation for Basotho was granted by South Africa affording over 90 000 applicants four-year temporary residence permits with the right to work.
The Labour Migration Management Assessment also observed that the textile industry, which employed females en masse under the US Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), “was hit by the slump in demand that followed the Euro-Dollar crisis in the mid-2000s”.
“While numbers of Basotho miners to South Africa dwindled, so did jobs in the textile sector leading increasing numbers of Basotho females to seek employment in South Africa as domestic workers and to a lesser extent, as farm labourers,” the policy document says.

“These various internal and external changes have resulted in contemporary trends and challenges which should be understood to craft a new national strategy regarding labour migration management,” the document reads.
The document says the migration of female low-skilled workers to South Africa started as early as the 1980s despite the ban by the apartheid government.

“By 2006, female migration to South Africa has been mostly undocumented, exposing these workers to precarious conditions of employment,” the document reads.

In addition to the low-skilled emigrants, Lesotho has also experienced a major brain-drain to South Africa and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.
According to the World Bank, one-third of Lesotho-born physicians have emigrated and significant numbers of nurses are known to have been recruited in the UK and the US.

Speaking at the National Labour Migration Policy launch, Justice Minister Mokhele Moletsane said “labour migration has been part and parcel of our livelihood for a very long time”.  “You will recall that our colonial masters designated Lesotho as a labour reserve when the diamond and gold mines were discovered in the Republic of South Africa,” Moletsane said.

“I am reliably informed that Lesotho will be the first country to have a labour migration policy in place within the SADC region. With this policy Lesotho is well placed to implement the UN Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration,” he said.

The Lesotho Employers Association’s CEO Advocate Lindiwe Sephomolo said employers “need a well-designed work permit and migration system which is predictable, reliable, efficient, transparent and meets labour needs at all skill levels,” Sephomolo said.
“Specifically we need reduction of the processing time frames for work permits.”

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