Speech by Minister TW Nxesi at the SATUCC 11th Delegates Congress
28 October 2022

​25-28 October 2022

Birchwood Hotel


Theme: “Revitalization of Trade Unions in Southern Africa: How Best Can we deliver our Mandate"


Input: TW Nxesi MP

Minister of Employment and Labour



  • Programme director
  • SATUCC President, Zingiswa Losi
  • Delegates
  • Invited guests
  • Ladies and gentlemen


Thank you to the organisers for inviting me to participate in this important event. It is an honour.


Looking briefly at trade unionism in South Africa, one trend I want to flag with you is the paradox – that whilst membership of registered unions has increased in recent years, union representivity in bargaining councils has dropped. Between 2013/14 and 2020/21 union membership increased from three-and-a-quarter million to over 4 million, whilst the total number of registered unions rose from 203 to 220.


My Department commented that “one of the unintended consequences of the freedom of association espoused by the 1995 Labour Relations Act was the proliferation of trade unions." Taken together with a prevailing 'majoritarianism', this tends to mean that members of splinter unions are not directly represented in bargaining chambers with the result that the collective representation of workers is weakened.


This matter I have raised with various unions with the suggestion that they need to find modalities to unite all workers including those in splinter unions – difficult as that might be.


It appears, however, that there is fierce competition for membership to the point where some trade unions are using collective bargaining as a recruiting turf for membership by portraying their rivals as 'sell-outs' and by resorting to intransigent tactics – such as long and damaging strikes.


Meanwhile, my Department has witnessed an increase in the number of 'unprotected' strikes in recent years – pointing to a fraying of respect for collective bargaining institutions. Having said that, even the most militant sounding union leader knows the value of registration, and can be found lobbying the minister for implementation of certain aspects of the LRA, for example, the extension of collective agreements to cover non-members.


A word on the issue of labour migration. The draft National Labour Migration Policy (NLMP) and draft Employment Services Amendment Bill have been through the public consultation process. The policy seeks to balance:

•  The constitutional rights of all to labour protections;

•  The expectations of South Africans to access work;

•  Our international obligations and treaties; and

•  The needs of the economy for scarce skills.


The Department commenced with research on a National Labour Migration Policy, following a decision by Ministers of Employment and Labour at SADC level with the intention of harmonizing standards within the region. By the end of 2021, five countries in the region have made significant progress in this area whilst simmering tension and differences in legislation on migration management has also gone in all sorts of directions partly in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and rising unemployment levels.


My Department is finalizing arrangements with NEDLAC (National Economic Development and Labour Council) for both the Labour Market and the Development Chambers to engage on the two documents. We are hoping to conclude government final consultations this year, before we refer both documents to Parliament. 


The draft National Labour Migration Policy must be viewed in an international context where globalisation and migration across national borders is now the norm. But of course, labour migration needs to be properly managed, and all countries do this. So for the first time, South Africa will have a comprehensive policy and legal framework to manage labour migration.


In summary the proposed National Labour Migration Policy aims to achieve a balance across four areas:

•      The first is to address South Africans' expectations regarding access to work opportunities, given worsening unemployment and the perception that foreign nationals are distorting labour market access. The NLMP, together with proposed legislation, will introduce quotas on the total number of documented foreign nationals with work visas that can be employed in major economic sectors such as Agriculture, Hospitality and Tourism, Construction etc.

•      The NLMP will be complemented by Small Business intervention and enforcement of a list of sectors where foreign nationals cannot be allocated business visas and amendments to the Small Business Act to limit foreign nationals establishing SMMEs and trading in some sectors of the economy.

•      The Department of Home Affairs is also reviewing current legislation and strengthening the Border Management Authority to secure porous borders and to allow for the orderly movement of people and other nationals through ports of entry only.

•      From the side of my Department, together with all relevant authorities, we are stepping up inspections to enforce existing labour and immigration legislation.


Secondly, Home Affairs has released a list of scarce and critical skills in high demand to provide guidance to allow foreign nationals in possession of the listed skills that the economy requires, and where job offers have been made, to be allocated work visas. The government will also impose various obligations on both the employer and the foreign national to transfer skills to locals and permits will be limited to specific durations.


Thirdly, South Africa is a signatory to international treaties and conventions governing the rights of migrants and refugees. All policies and interventions were developed within the ambit of the constitution of the Republic of South Africa and government will ensure the protection of migrant workers and their families in accordance with international standards and guidelines.


Fourthly, South Africa will also implement these initiatives within the context of its regional integration and cooperation imperatives that have already been agreed to at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union levels.


The National Labour Migration Policy goes hand in hand with a proposed Employment Services Amendment Bill -providing a policy framework and the legal basis to regulate the extent to which employers can employ foreign nationals in their establishments while protecting the rights of migrants.


The theme of this conference: “Revitalization of Trade Unions in Southern Africa: How Best Can we deliver our Mandate" – points to the need to get back to trade union basic principles which would include:

  • Worker power and democracy;
  • Mandating and accountability of leaders;
  • Efficient and honest service to members – which addresses their real concerns in the workplace;
  • Organising and recruitment in the knowledge that bargaining power resides in strength of numbers, and
  • Unity and solidarity across the labour movement.


That is your task.


I wish you well in your deliberations for the rest of this conference.


Thank you.