The anguish of foreign job-seekers

YOSEPH Igdobe migrated from Nigeria to Harare two years ago. But he is fed up with unemployment.

BY ALOIS VINGA

An engineering graduate from the University of Ibadan, he said most prospective employers in Zimbabwe were not keen to give him a job because they despise the authenticity of his educational papers.

Igdobe has been struggling to raise money to pay for his work permit and he was bitter that no local trade union was keen to take up his case while the country’s legislation was silent on migrant workers.

Such is the situation confronting foreign workers living in Zimbabwe.

The Labour Force and Child Labour Survey of 2014 released by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency recently says among the 207 130 migrants in Zimbabwe, South Africans constituted 45% at 93 208.

Mozambicans and Malawians constituted 22% and 15% respectively with the Batswana perched at 3,9%, Zambians at 7,8% and other African countries accounting for 2,8%.

From outside Africa, the United Kingdom is at 0,6% and other European countries at 0,7%. Americans are at 0,2%, Asians 0,2% while the remaining 1,4% cannot be accounted for.

However, most of these do not enjoy adequate protection in the labour market and such a scenario is causing untold suffering to the foreign workers.

One Congolese national who disclosed the torment he has suffered said: “It has not been easy to get a job for the past two years since arriving in Zimbabwe. Most employers do not have an interest in foreign workers as they have a perception that their qualifications are fraudulent.”

He said other prospective employers thought universities outside Zimbabwe had poor standards, hence graduates from such institutions were not competent.

Another Nigerian citizen, Samuel Ayobami, lamented the fact that migrants from his country are seen as criminals.

“Even when you get a job, it is difficult to work freely because migrants from Nigeria are often viewed as criminals who are good at performing rituals and peddling drugs. So before you are considered for a job there is this negative label affecting us already,” he said.

The situation is more deplorable for those immigrants who come from war-torn countries as they do not have proper papers.

“I decided to venture into buying and selling after leaving the Democratic Republic of Congo at the peak of political disturbances. My papers were burnt after rebels torched our house and this made it difficult for me to join the teaching profession in Zimbabwe,” another immigrant said.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) secretary-general Japhet Moyo said little had been done in main-streaming labour rights advocacy in favour of migrant workers.

“Due to the state of our labour market we have not crafted programmes that specifically address the plight of migrant workers. However, we acknowledge the investments they have made in sectors like agriculture where most of them are employed, hence, the need to seriously consider setting up programmes which directly look into their plight,” he said.

The high rate of unemployment in the country has cast a dark shadow on the plight of migrant workers. A labour survey published in June 2011 by Zimstat put unemployment at 10,7%. However, the figure was disputed by academics and stakeholder organisations because it was based on an “expanded” definition of unemployment that included people who had given up looking for work.

The ZCTU estimates that over 80% of Zimbabweans are not permanently employed while the International Trade Union Confederation states that 15,5% of the country’s working population is in the informal sector.

Economist John Robertson is on record saying while 2,9 million people may be working in some capacity, they do not fit the standard international definition of an “employee” as someone in “paid employment”.

“The definition does not apply if you are not being paid. An employee is somebody who has got a payslip and can get certain privileges like accessing credit,” he said.

This scenario worsens the plight of migrant workers who have limited opportunities when competing with locals to secure the few available jobs.

The International Labour Organisation reports that Zimbabwe has not ratified the global organ’s conventions 97 and 143 which underlines explicitly that all migrant workers and their families should be protected, including irregular migrants.

It also recognises the principle that lawfully resident migrant workers should be treated on equal terms with nationals in some important additional areas, such as conditions of employment and the provision of accommodation, including social or public housing.

Zimbabwe has also not ratified the United Nations Convention on Migrant Workers.

However, government’s Draft National Migration Management and Diaspora Policy which foresees the ratification and the translation of the provisions of the convention into the national legislative framework has not been effected.

Legal expert, Tawanda Nyamasoka observed that a foreign person who wishes to engage in occupation in Zimbabwe requires a working permit for a maximum period of five years.

“The permit may be extended for any period that, together with the period for which it has been in force, does not exceed five years. The permit shall be subject to the holder engaging in the occupation specified therein and remaining in the service of the applying employer. No regulation limits the number of expatriates and, therefore, discretion is placed in the hands of the chief immigration officer who exercises that power judiciously, with a strong bias to broadly retain employment for locals. The expatriate should also obtain a visitors’ entry certificate. Once admitted entry into the country, the employee would enjoy the same benefits and tax obligations as any local employee with the same protection at law, without any form of discrimination,” he said.

Efforts to get a comment from the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare ministry were fruitless although the ministry’s legal adviser, Precious Sibiya, had promised to respond.

The Department of Immigration’s public relations officer Cantona Magaya said all immigrants that approached their offices received assistance.

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