JUBA - The government of South Sudan said Wednesday a decree issued by the Labor Ministry, ordering companies and NGOs to fire foreigners from certain jobs and replace them with South Sudanese workers, has been misunderstood.
South Sudan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin, told a news conference in Juba that the government is not going to expel foreigners who are working in the country.
“Whether they are Ugandans or Kenyans or Ethiopians or Eritreans or Egyptians or whatever, so the government of South Sudan is not expelling any foreign workers in this country. We would like this statement to be very clear,” he said.
His reassurances came a day after the Labor Ministry published a circular in newspapers, ordering NGOs and privately held businesses to fire foreign workers in specific jobs. Those jobs included top management positions such as executive directors' positions and personnel officers. Some non-management jobs, including messengers and hotel workers, were also on the list.
Labor Ministry comments
But on Wednesday, Labor Minister Ngor Kolong Ngor issued a statement saying only low-level positions are being targeted. The statement says, "By executive directors, we mean executive secretaries and secretaries" and by "public relations, we mean front desks (sic) officers, receptionists and protocol officers."
U.N. agencies, diplomatic missions, and organizations that have "bilateral or mutual agreements" with the government of South Sudan are excluded from the order, Ngor said in the statement. He specifically cited regional bloc IGAD, which is leading peace talks for South Sudan, and USAID, the international development and humanitarian assistance wing of the U.S. government.
Marial said the the government is working on laws that will make clear who can be employed in what job, in both the public and private sectors.
“There are labor regulations that specify certain jobs for nationals, and there are jobs that are specified for non-nationals, like in any other country, and those will be later on discussed with the companies,” he said.
Louis de Brouwer, the operations director at the European Commission’s humanitarian aid and civil protection department, said the EU understands the directive from the Labor Ministry to mean that employers should, "...pay attention to the local labor market."
"That is to say that what they asked is when the expertise which is needed is available at the local market, that the employer give preference to the expertise in the local market. So that would be a matter of preference but that would be by no means mandatory for them,” he said.
Humanitarian agencies have said the timing of the order is unfortunate because it comes as millions of people face food shortages unless they receive aid. Laying off workers now and retraining others to take their jobs would be a recipe for disaster, the aid agencies say.
But Marial insists that they won’t be affected by the decree.
“We care for our relations because we are not in isolation," he said.
"We have lot of countries in this country, who are here to assist in humanitarian issues, they are assisting in development issues. They are supposed to stay here comfortably,” Marial said.
The government order is set to take effect on October 15.