/ 16 September 2005

Refugees’ right to work goes to court

The right of refugees to work in South Africa’s private security industry — and by extension, in all fields regulated by trade or professional bodies — are crunch issues in an upcoming battle in the Pretoria High Court.

The Union of Refugee Women and 12 refugees represented by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) are demanding the enforcement of rights to non-discrimination on the basis of refugee status granted by the Refugee Act of 1998 and the Constitution.

The case has a crucial bearing on whether regulatory bodies can implement their own legislation — ironically, also a constitutional right.

Since 2002, refugees have been barred from working in the security industry by the Private Security Regulatory Authority’s implementation of Private Security Act 56 of 2001.

The Act says only South African citizens or permanent residents may register to work in the industry, and that any company found employing unregistered workers risks a fine of R1 000 per day of employment.

LHR Attorney Fritz Gaerdes said the regulatory authority had refused to register refugees since ”about July 2002” and this appeared to violate the Constitution.

In addition, Section 23(6) of the Private Security Act allowed registration requirements to be overridden if there was ”good cause”.

He said after the LHR pointed this out to the Minister of Safety and Security, Charles Nqakula, refugee applications were again accepted for consideration. However, despite paying a fee of R80 each, none was registered.

Ministry for Safety and Security spokesperson Trevor Bloem said the Act allowed only the minister to exempt people from the registration requirements. Exemptions had been granted in appropriate instances.

”The discretion lies with the minister … although [he] is required to consult the authority.” Individuals could appeal against registration decisions via an independent appeal board.

However, Gaerdes said his clients had taken their cases to the appeal board, only to be dismissed.

Intake officer at the Cape Town Refugee Centre, Latyo Mory Kamba, confirmed the regulator was not considering refugees’ cases. The centre had helped refugees pay for their security courses and applications, but there had been a problem since 2002.

Until April last year, the authority appeared willing to take money from refugees for applications, although these were never processed.

The regulatory authority’s director, Seth Mogapi, refused to comment because the matter was pending before the courts.