THULAS NXESI: Left to themselves, employers will not bring equity

15 September 2021 by THULAS NXESI

SA’s segregated workforce has to be shaped by regulation if the effect of apartheid is to be eradicated.

Michael Cardo makes disconcerting and misleading references to the proposed Employment Equity Amendment Bill as “a job destroying jackhammer”, and in so doing seems to be denying the pervasive effect of apartheid legislation, which led to quotas for blacks and whites (“New employment equity bill is a weapon of economic mass destruction”, September 9).

Even today the dire consequences of this segregation are still rife in our labour market. Twenty-seven years into our democracy black people, in particular Africans, and women and persons with disabilities continue to be excluded from economic participation at higher occupational levels of our corporate organisations.

The current legislative amendments are an attempt to right the wrong of centuries of intentional and active economic exclusion of the great majority of black people — the high levels of poverty and inequality that are the remnants of the painful apartheid system our people had to endure. Unless, of course, Cardo does not believe this to be problematic and at the heart of the inequalities we experience today.

The employment equity statistics published in the latest Commission for Employment Equity annual report (2020/2021) bear evidence of this. Africans still account for 15.8% and 24.7% of positions in top and senior management levels, respectively, whereas women only account for 24.9% and 35.7% of all positions, respectively, at the same management levels.

At professionally qualified/middle management level the data indicates that  Africans and women are professionally qualified, with Africans accounting for 46.7% and women for 47.7% of all positions at this level in both the private and public sectors. This dispels the myth that black people do not have the skills to be promoted to senior and top management levels.

It is even worse when one looks at the representation of persons with disabilities, which remains at 1% of the total workforce 23 years since the inception of the Employment Equity Act.

The resistance to employment equity in the labour market is not usually overt, and the battle lines remain invisible. Rather, it is felt by those who are in the workplaces, those who come to claim their place in the world of work. Many employers, represented by management, covertly fight the implementation of employment equity while paying lip service to the need for transformation.  In fact, it has become evident that the implementation of the Employment Equity Act has become a tick-box exercise, and all sorts of reasons are given for why it cannot be accelerated. Those who are anti-transformation claim it is apartheid in reverse.

Cardo makes problematic claims not borne out by facts. It is absurd to think that the employment & labour minister will solely have power to set sector employment equity targets willy-nilly, without following due processes in terms of consultation with the relevant sector stakeholders and seeking advice from the Commission for Employment Equity, as prescribed by section 15A of the Employment Equity Amendment Bill. In fact, the proposed amendment prescribes that even after consultation with the relevant sector stakeholders the minister is legally obligated to publish the proposed sector employment equity targets for public comment for 30 days before the final regulation is implemented.

The sector stakeholder consultations are already at an advanced stage, and this engagement process has been welcomed and embraced by employers. We are analysing the overwhelming feedback of submissions received from the relevant sector stakeholders in relation to the proposed sector employment equity targets. Again, it is misleading to refer to the sector employment equity targets as “racial quotas” when the bill already prescribes that justifiable, reasonable grounds for failure to achieve sector employment equity targets must be considered by the minister before denying the employer an employment equity compliance certificate.

Therefore, there is no rigidity in the regulation of sector employment equity targets and the issuing of the compliance certificate as a prerequisite to do business with the state. In fact, the justifiable reasonable grounds had already been negotiated and agreed to by all National Economic Development & Labour Council social partners before being included in the draft employment equity regulations of 2018.

Furthermore, to create a conducive legislative environment for job creation the proposed employment equity amendments prescribe the reduction of the regulatory burden for small businesses, that is those that employ between one and 49 employees, by exempting them from complying with the affirmative action provisions of chapter III of the Employment Equity Act. For example, the small businesses that were previously designated based on their annual turnover threshold will no longer be required to prepare employment equity plans and submit reports. This will ease the burden of administration for these small businesses.

To turn the corner and expedite the pace of economic transformation during our lifetime, the proposed employment equity amendments before parliament should be seen as a catalyst to achieve this objective. Apartheid, in law and in fact, systematically discriminated against black people in all aspects of social life. Black people were prevented from becoming owners of property or even residing in areas classified as white; senior jobs and access to established schools and universities was denied to them; civic amenities, including transport systems, public parks, libraries and many shops, were closed to black people. Instead, separate and inferior facilities were provided. The deep scars of this appalling system are still visible in our society.

The deeply entrenched systemic discrimination by apartheid had dire consequences for the majority of citizens. The principle of job reservation that was legislated meant that the black population, women and persons with disabilities were segregated and could not compete on an equal basis for job opportunities. Our aim is to reverse this, and we are open to having conversations with all stakeholders as we have done.

Cardo is playing politics with people’s lives, and this is highly problematic — particularly when he decides to play games with the facts.

• Nxesi is employment & labour minister.

Source: Businesslive at