The employment of foreign nationals in the freight trucking industry, drivers made to wait for long hours at the port of entries – are some of the concerns raised to the Minister of Labour Thulas Nxesi.

The Minister was interacting with the role players during the truck drivers’ and stakeholders’ engagement session in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga, on Friday.

The most contentious issue shared by most of the industry role players was the employment of foreign nationals used as cheap labour. Exploitation in the industry was another sticking point.

The truck drivers feel that the industry needs to be regulated. They also complained to the Minister that some trucking companies are not adhering to safety regulations. Some of the lockdown regulations have been cited as being problematic.

“The big challenge in South Africa as truck drivers is that the companies employ national foreigners because they are cheap labour. As citizens of the country, we don’t participate in the economy of the country, it looks like our government only need us to vote. It is very painful to us,” says branch chairperson of a trucking company in Emalahleni Thulane Ngwenya.

Last year, six trucks were burned in the province as drivers took part in the nationwide strike against the employment of foreign nationals:

Truckers Association of South Africa’s (TASA) Marry Phadi says drivers experienced challenges caused by the restrictions during the hard lockdown, in particular.

“If we go to the third wave we should not fall on the same trap of making our drivers getting sick, they were nose bleedings, they would stay on the border for a long time, for fourteen days, and for the 14 days, they are not employable because employers had to get other people to transport the goods. During the hard lockdown, our drivers had challenges because they were supposed to cross different provinces to deliver products as they were essential services.”

Ongoing discussions

Nxesi says since 2018, there have been ongoing discussions to influence policies to address some of the concerns raised.

“In terms of our own Constitution and international conventions, they also have rights. In whatever solution we are coming up with, we must also respect their rights, all of us have rights and obligations to deal with this matter.”

As the country marks a full year of the lockdown, Nxesi says his department had to use a lot of resources to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

“We had to use a lot of our resources above R50 billion in order to deal with what we call a ‘temporary relief scheme’,  a lot of our inspectors got sick because they were working during that period.”

Nxesi is on a nationwide campaign as part of the truck drivers’ and stakeholders’ engagement sessions.