Johannesburg - The department of home affairs on Thursday warned employers against taking on illegal immigrants.
"It is illegal and against the spirit of our Immigration Act to employ immigrants who are illegal in the country and are without the necessary permits to be in South Africa," home affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni said in a statement.
The department was reacting to a request by Cosatu and Passop on Tuesday for Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor to give immigrant farmworkers in the Western Cape amnesty for the next three months.
"The two parties have reportedly called on minister Pandor to consider extending amnesty for three months to, particularly, workers from Lesotho," Apleni said.
Pandor had not received an official request from the two organisations.
People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (Passop) and the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) said the amnesty would avoid serious bloodshed and tensions between different immigrants and South African workers.
Protests about wages and living conditions started in De Doorns at the beginning of November and spread to 15 other towns in the Western Cape.
The protests started with table grape harvesters, who were calling for wages of R150 a day. Most earned between R69 and R75 a day.
"Now is too volatile a time to be implementing the immigration act, and farm owners who have previously employed undocumented workers for years are now dividing workers, using documentation as an excuse," the two organisations said.
Apleni urged employers to ensure their workers were properly registered with the department of labour.
Workers should have the necessary documentation and work permits in line with the country's immigration act.
"We wish to express our concern at reported remarks that may have the consequence of creating a climate conducive for the rise of xenophobic attacks against foreign migrants in the country," Apleni said.
He said the department would continue to address issues of regularisation of illegal migrants in South Africa.
"Following the regularisation of illegal Zimbabwean nationals, the department would consider extending similar services to immigrants from other neighbouring countries," Apleni said.
The department and ministry would decide on the issue once the Zimbabwean documentation project had been completed and finalised.