Marianne Merten, Warda Meyer and Murray Williams
Cape Town - A controversial employment equity regulation stipulating required national demographics to be applied even in provinces where population profiles are different – as in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal – is off the table, the Department of Labour has confirmed.
After days of speculation in business and civil rights lobby circles, labour spokesman Musa Zondi said on Wednesday that the clause had been withdrawn following negotiations in the government, labour and business negotiating chamber, Nedlac. However, the provisions of the act remained in place, he added.
The Employment Equity Act and a pending amendment give employers the option of deciding whether to apply national or regional demographics. The amendments would also introduce fines for not implementing employment equity requirements.
The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry has welcomed the decision to withdraw the controversial clause, which would have required companies to appoint managers and skilled staff in line with the national demographics.
“The chamber, along with other business organisations, objected to the regulations on the grounds that they were unrealistic and unfair, especially in the Western Cape, where the coloured population would be severely disadvantaged,” chamber president Janine Myburgh said.
The decision to withdraw the proposed clause had “saved a great deal of time and money” in possible legal battles.
Commenting after the initial, unconfirmed news of the proposal’s withdrawal, the head of Solidarity’s Centre for Fair Legal Practice, Dirk Groenewald, said the dropping of the contentious stipulation was welcome.
“It again shows how important public pressure is – and what significant role civil organisations can play in opposing harmful laws and policies,” he said.
Earlier this year, Solidarity successfully helped 10 Western Cape warders to challenge in the Labour Court the decision by Correctional Services to apply only national demographics to staff promotions, disadvantaging coloured employees.
The director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Johan Kruger, also welcomed the withdrawal. While the centre recognised equality had yet to be achieved, the employment equity regulations would have had “far-reaching negative implications for coloured South Africans in the Western Cape and for Indian South Africans in KwaZulu-Natal”.
Former Western Cape premier Peter Marais’s Bruin Bemagtigings Beweging (Brown Empowerment Movement) applauded the Labour Ministry for responding positively to the public outcry over the proposed amendment.
Marais, whose movement has been at the forefront of the fight for the regulations to be scrapped, said employment equity should be seen as a measure by which coloured and black people could recover their self-worth.
“It goes much deeper than issues of service delivery and efficiency. It has always been important for us to be able to compete as engineers, doctors, nurses, public servants, editors and business (people) against whites as equals and to learn through trial and error. This was denied to us after the Nats came to power in 1948. Some form of readjustment was very necessary,” he said.
But he warned that one could not build dignity on a foundation of hate and revenge against whites.
“Radicalism must be tempered with pragmatism. It is therefore important that absolute race quotas be done away with in their entirety and replaced with individual merit.”
Marais said the introduction of the amendment regulations had possibly cost the ANC at the polls.
Western Cape Premier Helen Zille said: “If this is confirmed, we warmly welcome it, but we do so reservedly until we see the final regulations. Our major problem is that the act gives so much power to the minister… This means the legislative process of Parliament is effectively bypassed by concentrating powers in the hands of the minister to draft regulations that can be detrimental to growth and job creation.
“But if the ‘quota’ clauses in the regulations have been withdrawn, that is a step in the right direction.”