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Tension still high in trucking industry despite cancellation of ‘national shutdown’

Tension still high in trucking industry despite cancellation of ‘national shutdown’
Firefighters try to extinguish a burning truck after it was burnt and looted during the Pro-Zuma protests in the CBD on 11 July 2021 in Durban. (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw)

South African truck drivers’ associations this week called off a planned ‘national shutdown’, but simmering tension over the employment of so-called non-South African drivers could boil over at any time.

Tension in South Africa’s trucking industry over the hiring of foreign truck drivers has been raging for almost six years and appears to be far from over. 

After calling off a planned “national shutdown” on Monday, the All Truck Drivers’ Forum and Allied South Africa (ATDF-ASA) said, “The ATDF-ASA contends that several trucking companies in the country routinely and illegally hire foreign truck drivers at a lower cost to increase profits. As a result, South African truck drivers are left jobless.”

Over the past six years, there have been sporadic outbreaks of attacks in which dozens of trucks have been torched, and ongoing protests and road blockages at hotspots countrywide.

The attacks are based on perceptions that the industry employs foreign truck drivers to the exclusion of South African drivers because there is a scarcity of skilled truck drivers in South Africa. 

Scarce skills

South Africa’s scarce skills provision states that foreigners can only be hired for jobs for which there is a local scarcity of skills. However, South African drivers and their representatives argue there is not a scarcity of skilled truck drivers in the country.

This view is shared by Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi. 

Briefing the media in June 2022, Nxesi said, “Both the Department of Employment and Labour and the Department of Home Affairs have reported that while some operators have asserted that South Africa lacks skilled truck drivers, the inspections and law enforcement operations have found that truck driving was an abundant skill in South Africa and therefore not a scarce skill as purported by some operators.”

The CEO of the Road Freight Association, Gavin Kelly, has said: “Foreign individuals (without the required necessary work permits — in whatever form) are employed in preference to South African citizens as they can be paid less and not receive the basic minimum benefits as prescribed in the road freight and logistics sector.”

Kelly said the ATDF-ASA had informed the authorities that they were unhappy with the progress the various departments had made to resolve their grievances — which have been dragging on for five years.

Xenophobia

Tensions in South Africa’s trucking and road freight sector have been apparent since 2018 and have from time to time manifested in the assault of foreign truck drivers, actions seen as xenophobic.  

In its March 2021 push for foreign nationals not to be hired in the trucking industry, the ATDF-ASA demanded the government abolish the contentious Zimbabwe Exemption Permits.  

The government has put together an interministerial committee comprising Nxesi, Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga, Police Minister Bheki Cele and Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, which was tasked with handling the matter. 

On 25 October 2021, aggrieved truck drivers blocked several main freeways and demanded an audience with authorities over the hiring of foreign truck drivers. Drivers and their representatives rejected an agreement entered into to end those road blockages on the basis that it was “useless”, ATDF-ASA general secretary Sifiso Nyathi said at the time.

The RFA’s Kelly believes that the government has failed to deliver on its commitments to the sector, “especially in terms of the inspections of businesses (in all sectors) and the control of registration of employees.

“Government allows non-compliant employers (companies) to compete with compliant companies without any consequence,” Kelly said. 

“The three departments involved in the Freight Task Team need to apply the current laws, implement the agreed 11-point plan and hold non-compliant employers accountable.” DM

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