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Foreigners Abused at WorkBy Thamsanqa Tshuma
28 June 2020
After failing her O' levels, and deciding that her hometown held no prospects for someone who is not academically gifted, *Precious (not her real name) packed her small satchel and bade farewell to her parents.
She hit the 860 km road southwards and across the Limpopo River into a land painted as one of milk and honey. She did not even say her goodbyes to friends and neighbors in fear of being witch crafted.
No one would have questioned her decision to try her luck in the neighboring country considering how injiva portrayed themselves as have struck gold in the City of Gold. The brief moments they set foot back home during holidays made that point loud and clear. Meanwhile, the majority of people back home, including the educated seemed to be living ordinary lives, when not struggling.
Johannesburg was therefore ultimate destination for most young people hailing from the Matabeleland regions of Zimbabwe in the late 1990s and early 2000s. That was before many broadened their scope and began to venture to other places like Botswana, Namibia, United Kingdom, Australia, USA, the Arab Region, China and many other countries across the globe.
17 years later, despite the challenges she is faced within South Africa, she still does not regret the decision she took.
"I would not even know where to start if I were to go back home. I have built my life here. Now it's a matter of overcoming the obstacles I am faced with here. The Covid-19 has made things worse but I just have to soldier on like everyone else," said the mother of three.
According to an overview by the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) based on Statistics South Africa data (2012-2017), migrants are more likely to be informally employed and therefore face precarious employment conditions. 27.1% of migrants work in the informal sector compared to 15.7% of South Africans.
She narrated how the restaurant she works for has been violating her labor rights and how she has been unable to speak out about it in fear of arrest and the ensuing deportation since she is undocumented. She said Hillbrow Radio News could only publish this article provided her anonymity was guaranteed.
"My boss has been deducting the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) money from my salary for 16 years I have been working for that company, but yet I cannot claim my benefits. When I confronted him about it, he said I should go to the offices myself, knowing well that I cannot do that. The most painful part is that even up to today that money is still being deducted, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I am working for a company that sees us as slaves. At one time we asked for a raise as a group. The manager evaded us until we gave up pursuing the matter. When we had long forgotten about the matter, he finally came to us and told us that he and his partners had agreed to increase our wages by 10 cents per hour. We could not believe such an insult. But hey, what could we have done?" she said.
According to the Annual Review of Public Health immigrants suffer the most unimaginable kinds of abuses.
"Abuses in the workplace take multiple forms, from outright physical abuse or harassment to what has been termed benign neglect when managers fail to implement or enforce safety measures. The actual or perceived lack of legal protection for immigrant workers often results in their exposure to abuse in the workplace," the review notes
Pretty went further to narrate the abuse she faced as a woman in the 'land of milk and honey
"As a woman, I regularly have to go to the clinic to the clinic to attend to my maternal health care needs. But that was hard before my shifts were reduced knowing that a day's wage would be deducted from my salary. Even if I were to produce a letter from the clinic, it would not be considered as proof enough and I constantly risked being fired. He only accepted letters from private hospitals, which are expensive.
"I had two of my three children working for the same company. Both those times were bittersweet because although I was celebrating the arrival of new lives into this world, I had no income during the three-month- periods of maternity leave," she said.
The ACMS overview further notes that black women continue to have the highest unemployment rates and the least desirable jobs. Among migrants as well, migrant men enjoy higher employment rates than migrant women. This makes abuse on them more prevalent as they are more desperate to hang on to their jobs.
Pretty said that despite the sacrifices that she has had to make for her family, she believed that better days were ahead.
"When I say that we are slaves, I mean exactly that. Where have you heard of workers' wages being deducted for taking a 15 minutes tea-break and an hour lunch break? Here, we prepare food but we do not get to taste it. A colleague was fired on the spot when she was suspected of stealing a burger from the shop when she had brought it from a nearby shop. No investigation whatsoever was done.
But I believe the struggles that I am going through are not in vain. I believe I will live to see my children live a dignified life. I have hope that one day as Africans, and as people across different races, we will all see each other as equal and as one.
In 2019, over 21 million Africans were living in another African country, a significant increase from 2015, when around 18.5 million Africans were estimated to be living within the region.
On the migration corridors chat in Africa, a chat that represents an accumulation of migratory movements over time and provides a snapshot of how migration patterns have evolved into significant foreign-born populations in specific destination countries, the one between Zimbabwe and South Africa is seated at number 20.
Some of the largest migration corridors involving African countries are between North African countries such as Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia to France, Spain and Italy, in part reflecting post-colonial connections and proximity.
Others, such as those between South Sudan and Uganda as well as Somalia and Ethiopia are the result of large-scale displacement due to conflict.
Over half of the main migration corridors shown are within Africa, with the corridor from Burkina Faso to neighboring Côte d'Ivoire constituting the second largest for Africa overall.
Globally, current estimates are that there are 272 million international migrants (or 3.5% of the world's population).