More than 26 years into democracy, South Africa still grapples with cruelty in the workplace and exploitation of foreign nationals by some employers, says Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi.

He was speaking during the official opening of a labour centre at Emaxesibeni, formerly known as Mount Ayliff, in the Eastern Cape. He says the centre will help address many challenges facing workers in rural parts of the province.

The centre will offer services on labour disputes and Unemployment Insurance Funds for workers in this area. The assault of employees by employers in rural parts of the country is also a concern.

An ex-miner Simbongile Mafutha Gaqa alleges that he was brutally assaulted by his employer. He had to undergo genital surgery.

“When I asked him why is he kicking me so badly in my private parts, he told me there is nowhere I can go because he is a White man and he called me with a k-word, and said, ‘A k-word will remain a k-word. I am not going to stop what I am doing to a k-word. You can go to your father Mandela if you like,  I am a White man and you are a k-word.’. I am very traumatised about this because I am k-word according to his words,” says Gaqa.

Nxesi says assaulting workers is a violation of human rights. “This issue of workers who are being brutalised which is a violation of the rights, which are constitutional violations it’s a matter which we are following, here we need to open cases against these employers. It’s something that we are going to do but we are seeing the arrogance coming back from some of the White employers and I think it’s informed by racism, it’s informed by not wanting to accept that we are under a new dispensation where everybody has the rights,” says Minister Nxesi.

The Minister says non-compliance with labour laws and exploitation of displaced foreign nationals are also a concern. “What we are seeing now is the employers when they want to boost their profit,  who do not want to pay the minimum wage, who do not want to respect the labour laws, they employ those desperate workers who are coming from other countries, who are displaced by wars and they are ready to work at any time, starting at six o’clock end at 12 o’clock which is far beyond what has been regulated by the law.

We now have our inspections who are going to come in masses and we deal with these employers whether they are Black or White, we have to deal with them,” says Nxesi.

Minister Thulas Nxesi opens a labour centre in the Eastern Cape:

The government also wants to prioritise the informal business sector, to boost local economic development and employment opportunities.

“We have budgeted as the Department of Economic Development r40 million from this financial year to look at how we could assist the informal sector, because you must remember that the informal sector offers a number of jobs and you could see during COVID- 19 it was not really catered for in terms of the relief schemes that were there, that is why now we have budgeted  R40 million to ensure that we will partner with local government to identify those people who are in the informal sector, as to how we could assist them and how do we capacitate them,” says MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Mlungisi Mvoko.

The Labour Centre seeks to improve working conditions across all sectors in the rural part of the Alfred Nzo region.