Expect an even bigger push for transformation in South Africa: minister

Employment and Labour minister Thulas Nxesi says that the Constitutional Court’s decision to dismiss an application by trade union Solidarity around the issue of employment equity has vindicated government’s push for transformation in South Africa.

In its application, Solidarity asked for leave to appeal against the ruling of both the Labour Court and Labour Court of Appeal, which both dismissed efforts by the union to force the minister and the Department of Employment and Labour to enforce a recommendation by the Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Employment Equity.

In 2018, The South African Human Rights Commission’s Equality Report found that certain aspects of the country’s employment equity were too broad, and should be more narrowly targeted towards more nuanced groups based on socioeconomic need.

It said that measures such as affirmative action should be applied temporarily to restore equality, and once that is achieved, cease. However, it acknowledged that much work still needed to be done to achieve this level in equality in South Africa.

Solidarity, meanwhile, took an interpretation of the report claiming that the SAHRC had indicated that it was time for Employment Equity to be defined away from race.

Despite the SAHRC denying Solidarity’s interpretation of the report’s findings, the union took the matter to the Labour Court where it was seeking an order to force the department to enforce this suggestion.

The Labour Court and the Labour Appeals Court both dismissed the argument, which the union then lodged to the Constitutional Court.

“The Constitutional Court, in our view, correctly dismissed this frivolous court challenge which seeks to rewrite the painful past that we come from and the measures that have been instituted to ensure that the injustices of the past are redeemed to the extent possible,” said Nxesi in a statement on Monday (7 February).

Nxesi added that there is still a long way to go before it could be argued that Africans had caught up with the past injustices.

“Year in and year out, our Commission of Employment Equity proves that white males remain entrenched at the top of the food chain and in management – in fact in all categories that matter.

“Black people are still at the bottom and as long as the picture remains so skew, the need for the corrective action will always be there.”

“What this judgment does is to give us even more impetus to work towards the transformation of the workplace, and we commit to ensure that we will do all that is in our power to see a more representative workplace,” said Nxesi.

Greater transformation

The government is already making an even greater push for transformation in businesses in South Africa, through the Employment Equity Amendment Bill which is currently out for public comment.

The bill promises a shake-up of the country’s existing employment equity laws and will give the minister of Employment and Labour the power to speed up transformation in specific business sectors.

It does this by empowering the minister to set sector-specific employment equity targets across most of South Africa’s major industries.

Under the legislation, the minister will first have to publish a notice in a gazette, identifying the national economic sectors which will be impacted.

After consulting the individual sectors – and on the advice of the Commission for Employment Equity (CEE) – the minister may set numerical employment equity targets for any sector or part of a sector by notice in a gazette.

The department said that the notice may set different numerical targets for different occupational levels, sub-sectors or regions.

The bill stipulates that a draft of any notice that the minister proposes must be published in the gazette and interested parties must be permitted at least 30 days to comment.

Some of the factors which the minister will consider when setting sector targets include:

  • The qualification, skills and experience required to be employed in a particular occupational level;
  • The rate of turn-over and natural attrition in a sector;
  • Recruitment and promotional trends within a sector.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised that the bill will be a ‘game changer’ for Black Economic Empowerment in South Africa, and will include a focus on the key economic sectors which drive the economy and the role that black people have in these areas.

Read: The next major headache for businesses in South Africa: mandatory Covid-19 vaccine policies

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Expect an even bigger push for transformation in South Africa: minister