The Cape Chamber of Commerce says that, while there were laws in place giving refugees equal employment rights to those of South Africans, this was seldom the case in practice.
“If you want to register at a Seta (to study) or apply for UIF... if you don’t have papers… you either turn to crime or work,” chamber president Michael Bagraim said.
Bagraim made the comments on Wednesday – the UN World Refugee Day – while speaking at a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conference at the Sea Point Civic Centre.
The theme of the conference was “Improving Access to Employment for Refugees in South Africa”.
On Wednesday’s conference was aimed at highlighting the difficulties refugees faced and facilitating their access to the labour market, the UNHCR’s Patrick Kawuma-Male said.
Bagraim also raised the problem that employers hired refugees who do not have work permits.
In such a case, employers faced trouble with the departments of Home Affairs or Labour because the employee was protected by labour laws and could not be dismissed, he said.
“As employers, you face the wrath of the law from both ends.”
Vuyani Shwane of the Department of Home Affairs’ Refugee Office in Cape Town added: “We’re well aware that some refugees possess skills that are needed in the country. However, there are challenges and our role as a department is to ensure that they get the documents they need.”
He said the department was in the process of creating green ID documents for refugees. The process had not yet been finalised.
Another concern was “business people exploiting people who are not documented”, hiring “cheap labour”. “And we discourage that,” he added.
Recognised refugees are entitled to social grants, basic services like health care and primary education.
“We are one of the countries that pride ourselves on allowing asylum seekers to integrate,” Shwane added.
Mike Louw of Cosatu said refugees had the right to freedom of association and therefore the right to join a union.