Do SA labour laws apply to foreign nationals?

Aug 1, 2018

The recent raids on businesses employing illegal foreign nationals in Cape Town underscores the Department of Labour’s mission to ensure that employers comply with labour legislation as it relates to the employment of foreign nationals.
Many employers provide employment to foreign nationals without understanding the legal implications of their decision. There is a misconception that if someone is a foreign national, normal labour laws, such as the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and Labour Relations Act, do not apply to them.
It is important that employers know that foreign employees, including those who do not have valid work visas or permits, are afforded legal protection in terms of South Africa’s labour laws and they enjoy all the rights, privileges, duties and obligation of a ordinary South African citizen. They are also protected against unfair dismissal and/or unfair labour practices.
Employers must ensure that when they dismiss a foreign national, it is done for a fair reason and in accordance with fair processes. Employers should not be under the false impression that South Africa’s labour law does not apply to foreign nationals or that foreign nationals do not have any recourse against their employers.
If people are in the country illegally, they can be deported. Furthermore, section 49(3) of the Immigration Act provides that “anyone who knowingly employs an illegal foreigner or a foreigner in violation of the Immigration Act shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine or a period of imprisonment not exceeding one year for a first offence.
When employing foreign nationals, a duty is placed on an employer to make an effort, in good faith, to ensure that no illegal foreigner is employed by it and to ascertain the status or citizenship of the persons it employs. It is up to the employer to check if the individual has valid enabling documents to work in South Africa. Employers also need to check the expiry date and make sure the employment contract is for the duration of the work permit.
Alternatively, such employees must take steps to renew the documentation timeously. If they do not, the employer will have grounds to terminate their services.

The content does not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Kindly contact us on or 021 556 1075 to speak to one of our consultants.


Wallace Albertyn

Wallace Albertyn is a Senior Associate and Legal Advisor at LabourMan Consultants.

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