South Africa


Employment Equity – 20 years down the line, a marginal movement to diversity

Former public works minister Thulas Nxesi in Parliament in 2018. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Labour and Employment Minister Thulas Nxesi is threatening the big stick over employment equity as the latest statistics released on Tuesday show transformation remains elusive. Very elusive.

That white men rule, still, would not surprise anyone, except perhaps trade union Solidarity and lobbyists AfriForum.

Both groups have over the years lobbied against employment equity as discriminatory and unfair, including complaining in May 2017 to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Or pushing stunts like AfriForum Youth, which to illustrate affirmative action ahead of 2013 Freedom Day served cheaper coffee to black African students at the University of Pretoria until campus authorities quickly shut it down.

Sometimes Solidarity and AfriForum put their money where their mouth is by taking legal action. They pushed, ultimately successfully in the Constitutional Court in 2016, the case of the Cape Town prison wardens, who were denied promotions because Correctional Services applied national demographics, regardless of the statutory provisions allowing for regional variations as in the Western Cape.

Remember ex-labour director-general Mzwanele Manyi’s comments in March 2010 about the Western Cape’s over-supply of coloureds in an interview with KykNet’s Robinson Regstreeks: “… So they must stop this over-concentration situation because they are in over-supply where they are so you must look into the country and see where you can meet the supply”.

Although the employment equity legislation has been in place since 1998, implementation to transform the workforce into one that’s diverse and representative of South Africa appears stalled.

The Commission for Employment Equity (CEE) report for 2018, released on Tuesday, shows a picture of top, senior and professional ranks dominated by whites and men. And there’s been little movement over the past three years.

The report has come on the back of a swathe of other indicators, including an unemployment rate of 29%, or 38.5% on the expanded definition that includes those who’ve given up finding employment, that shows deep fundamental inequality. South Africa is widely considered one of, if not the, most unequal countries in the world.

According to the report, white men represent just 5.1% of the economically active population, and white women 3.9%, but they are 66.5% of top managers, 54.4% of senior managers and 37.4% of professionals. In comparison, only 15.1% of top managers in 2018 were African, even though they accounted for 78.8% of the economically active population (EAP) that’s the yardstick used by the commission.

Or as CEE Chairperson Tabea Kabinde said: “African males represent 42.8% of the economically active population and yet they only represent 10% in top management. There’s really an over-representation of white males in top management. White males’ EAP is 5.1%, but in top management, it’s 53.3%”.

Across the board, top and senior management remain male dominated. At top management level, 76.5% were male in 2018, with the number of women top managers increasing by just 1.5% from the 22% recorded in 2016. Among senior managers, 65.5% were male and 34.5% women.

Whites were also over-represented in skilled ranks although that was where “most of the transformation has happened”, according to Kabinde: whites still represented 18.5% of skilled employees, compared to 63.3% of Africans, 11.2% of coloureds and 5.4% of Indians.

White women continue to be well represented in the professional ranks, as are Indian men and women, according to a snapshot of the employment equity statistics.

Much of the drag on employment equity transformation is in the private sector, according to the CEE report. And that’s where Labour and Employment Minister Thulas Nxesi now wants harsher action to get everyone in line and on board.

There’s been little transformation in the workplace since the passing of the employment equity legislation 20 years ago. This means our country is not moving on transformation,” said the minister. “That’s why our people ask us what liberation we are talking about when economically things have remained the same. This unhealthy situation flies in the face of an inclusive economy.”

It was clear self-regulation wasn’t working. And so there must be consequences. One is to finally get cracking on Section 53 of the Act, the compliance certificate. Without such a certificate, a company would not be able to do business with government. This should come into effect by early 2020 at the latest. Already underway are discussions by the CEE to set sector targets, with clear consequences for missing those.

We are now going to be hard,” said Nxesi. “We are very clear, those who do not comply must face the music. Those who do not comply must be punished.” DM