Twenty-four years of Employment Equity Act – inequity still thrives in the South African workplaces

More than two decades since the enactment of the Employment Equity Act (EEA) to transform the South African labour market compliance levels still remain regretfully low.

This sorry state of affairs has prompted Employment and Labour Minister T.W Nxesi to say “if we are serious about transformation we should not be begging now. The time has now come to get hard on non-compliance”.

Commission for Employment Equity (CEE) Chairperson Ms. Tabea Kabinde said now that the Employment Equity Amendment Bill had been finalised it is now a matter of urgency that this should be assented into law.

The Minister and Kabinde were speaking today during the official launch of the 22nd CEE Annual Report and Public Register of all designated employers on the status of workplace transformation. The launch was held at Protea Hotel in Midrand.

Nxesi said there was a need to push hard for transformation, “if we do not do it now will see the status quo prevailing for the next 100 years”. He said the measure of success of society will be defined by the extent in which government had been able to uplift the vulnerable in society. He admitted government’s failure for its snail pace in transforming the country.

“I hope the proposed EE amendments currently in Parliament will serve as a game changer. It cannot be business as usual while our people compete for space in the labour market,” he said. Nxesi noted with concern the continued and flourishing slave conditions in the labour market, wherein the immigrants were being exploited, saying “we seem to be going back to slave conditions in this country”.

The latest CEE report showed that in 2021 White males accounted for 63,2 percent (2020: 64,7 percent) of Top management positions; followed by Africans 17,0 percent (2020: 15,8 percent); Indians account for 10,9 percent (2020: 10,6 percent) and Coloureds made 5,9 percent (2020: 5,7 percent).

The White and Indian population groups remain over represented in relation to their Economically Active Population (EAP) at the Top Management level. The African and Coloured population groups remain grossly under represented and the representation of Foreign Nationals still remain relatively high at 3,0%, although a slight decline of 0.1% is noted from the previous year at this occupational level. Transformation at the top management is more visible within the public administration, said the report.

The EAP is based on Statistics South Africa quarterly labour force survey data. The EAP is used as a benchmark to assist employers in the analysis of their workforce to determine the degree of under or over-representation of the designated groups in the workforce.

In terms of the National Economically Active by Population Group and Gender the report shows that males of all racial groups accounted for 55,3 percent while females made 44,7 percent.

African males account for 43,6 percent, Coloured male 5,0 percent, Indian male 1,8 percent and White male 4,9 percent. While African females accounted for 35,8 percent, Coloured female 4,1 percent, Indian female 0,9 percent and White female 3,9 percent.

The disabled group at top management level has remained at 1,6 percent after a 1,5 percent representation in 2019.

The CEE report covers the period from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022.

The report analysis covered the six occupational levels of the workforce profile and movements according to population groups, gender and disability. These levels include: top management level, senior management, professionally qualified/middle management, skilled technical/junior management, semi-skilled, and unskilled.

It also provides the status of employment equity in the various economic sectors and business types reported in the 2021. Furthermore, the report outlines a lack of proper workplace barriers analysis and lack of implementation of affirmative action measures required to achieve employment equity.

At the Senior Management level a similar trend to Top management is observed. The White population group although declining in representation of approximately 1% year-on-year, continue to dominate at this occupational level. Their representation is the highest at 51.4%, while the second highest is the representation of the Indian population group at 12% at this occupational level. Both of these population groups are grossly over represented when compared to their EAP. The same trend is observed in the Public Service and the Private Sector, where both the White and Indian population groups are over represented in relation to their EAP at this occupational level. The Private Sector employs more Foreign Nationals (3.2%) compared to the Public Service (0.4%) at this level.

The high representation of Foreign Nationals at Educational Institutions (5%) is noted at Senior Management occupational level.

The racial misalignment repeats itself in the Professionally Qualified/Middle Management level. Here the White, Indian and Coloured population groups are above their EAP at this level. Africans are the only population group that is far below their EAP at this occupational level, and the gains made for this group over the years remain insignificant. The representation of the African population group is approximately 33% below their EAP. The White population group remains dominant in both the Public Service and Private Sector.

The female group having reached their EAP, is performing significantly well at Professionally qualified occupational level, said the report.

At the Skilled Technical level, the African population group remains below their EAP, whereas all the other population groups have exceeded their EAP. In the Semi-Skilled level the Coloured and Indian population groups have experienced a decline in terms of their representation. The report said there appears to be a trend to employ more people from designated groups in this category.

While the Unskilled level is dominated by the African and Coloured population groups. The representation of the African female group at (53.5%) dominates at this occupational level, followed by the African males group (38,2%) in the Public Service. In the Private Sector, the African male group has the highest representation (48,5%), followed by the African female group (34,5%) at this occupational level. Foreign National representation remained at 3,7% as recorded in the previous year, and the White and Indian population groups still remain well below their EAP at this level.

Kabinde said only 10,8 percent of employers reported barriers towards implementing transformation. Kabinde asked if the estimated 90 percent were not experiencing barriers, why was there a high rate of disputes, especially those relating to pay disparities referred to Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration?

The CEE Chairperson said the Commission was concerned that not enough has been done to address the plight of the persons with disability.

She said some of the trends and disputes emerging in the transformation space was that there were 4 308 cases of unfair discrimination that were reported between 2019 and June 2020. She said the picture could be worse had it not been victimisation as more cases go unreported.

“Workplace activists are critical,” Kabinde said.

The CEE launches the report on the back of EE Amendment Bill currently underway in Parliament.

The primary objectives of amendments are: to provide the Minister with the power to, in consultation with the sector stakeholders and on the advice of the Commission for Employment Equity, to regulate employment equity sector through specific EE numerical targets for designated groups (i.e., Black people, women and persons with disabilities)

To reduce the regulatory burden on small employers, i.e., those employing between 0-49 employees.

To regulate criteria for assessment of compliance to complement the promulgation of Section 53 of the EE Act in order to be able to issue Employment Equity Certificate of Compliance as a precondition for designated employers to access State Contracts and do business with any organ of the state or public entity.

In 2021 a total of 27 017 reports were submitted by designated employers in 2021 – 1,4 percent growth. The reports covered 7 079 355 employees – a 0,3 percent increase. The reports were submitted by private sector (25 717), Non-profit organisations (503), educational institutions (312), local government (172), State-owned companies (132), provincial government (126), and national government (55).

According to the CEE Report a total of 1 425 EE inspections were conducted in the year under review relating to: DG Reviews, monitoring and reassessments.

Meanwhile, the 5th Commission for Employment Equity said as part of its key objectives for the next five years until 30 November 2025 it will focus on:

To provide sound and well researched advice to the Minister on the EEA and its policy tools;

To mobilize stakeholders to enable Employment Equity compliance;

To facilitate the empowerment of workers to enforce their rights as espoused in the EEA;

To empower employers to drive the transformative journey; and

To monitor, evaluate and report on employment equity.

Also, in August and September 2022 the CEE, the Department of Employment and Labour’s EE Directorate in partnership with CCMA will be conducting EE annual workshops in provinces to deal with compliance to EE Act, share information on CCMA reported cases on sexual harassment and discrimination, and EE reporting advocacy.

Source: Government of South Africa