Refugees welcome to join trade unions, says COSATU

Veronica Washaya
UNHCR Promoting Peace. Photo by Veronica Washaya.
Veronica Washaya

The United Nations (UN) has marked 20 June of every year World Refugee Day.

This year the theme was, One family torn apart by conflict is too many, and the local provincial office in Cape Town adopted the statement Ubuntu has no borders. At Sea Point Civic Centre, a conference on improving access to employment for refugees in South Africa was organized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in partnership with ARESTA, the University of Cape Town Law Clinic Refugee Rights Projects, Sonke Gender Justice Network and the Cape Town Refugee Centre (CTRC) on Wednesday 20 June to commemorate the day.

Panel members included Congress Of South African Trade Union (COSATU) representative Mike Louw, City of Cape Town’s Economic Development Department representative Mr Hanief Tiseker and speaker from the Cape Chamber of Commerce, Michael Bagraim. There was also a representative from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). Against the backdrop of the closure of the Maitland Refugee Reception Centre, the DHA representative said he was under strict instructions not to talk about the closing.

Michael Bagraim, speaking on labour law, said “dismissal of an employee without documentation by an employer is not permitted and employers are fined heavily for employing employees with no documents.” Bagraim went on to explain about the high level of unskilled workers in the country and yet how there are skilled migrants willing to work. He added that he wished there was a database for qualified skilled migrants that were seeking employment. A labour recruitment agency agent in the audience reported there was and that she would be willing to share it with Mr Bagraim.

COSATU’s Mike Louw spoke about refugees joining trade unions. He mentioned that most people were not aware that refugees have the right to join trade unions. He appealed to the refugee working force to enlist so that they could be awarded the same rights as other workers in trade unions.

The City of Cape Town’s Hanief Tiseker spoke about South African small business entrepreneurs and how they wished to bridge the gap between themselves and foreign small business owners. Tiseker went on to explain the need to integrate the refugees into various business programs, both formal and informal.

The audience members were given a chance to voice their questions. A bank worker commented on how difficult it was for refugees to open bank accounts as the Home Affairs office had to verify their documents, a process that could take up to six weeks.

Head of UNHCR Field Office in Cape Town, Patrick Kawuma Male said the aim of the conference was to influence labour policies to the benefit of the refugees.

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TOPICS:  Immigration

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