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ANC defends labour reforms while MF, DA raise concerns about minorities

The silhouettes of job seekers standing together at sunrise.

Job seekers wait on a bridge at sunrise near Khayelitsha informal settlement in Cape Town hoping to get work for the day. The government has said the Employment Equity Amendment Act aims to promote diversity and equality. Picture: Henk Kruger African News Agency (ANA).

Published Jul 31, 2023


Durban - The Employment Equity Amendment Act has passed the constitutional and rationality test, and any opposition to it was merely aimed at protecting mainly white privilege in the country’s economic landscape, the ANC says.

In addition to this, the governing party has insisted that non-sexism and non-racialism remain central in its pursuit of transformation and economic freedom.

The stance comes after mounting opposition to the changes in the country’s labour legislation. The new law allows for economic sectoral targets to be set and for demographic targets for employers with more than 50 employees to be prescribed. It also seeks to empower the minister to regulate sector employment targets after consultation with sector stakeholders and advice from the Employment Equity Commission.

Minority Front (MF) leader and member of the provincial Legislature (MPL) Shameen Thakur-Rajbansi led the debate in the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature on the changes in labour legislation last week, just days after the DA led a march expressing opposition to the proposals by Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi.

Thakur-Rajbansi said the government’s labour reforms were leaving many economically active minorities feeling deliberately excluded from the economy.

In addition to this, she said many were questioning whether the government had adopted a narrow, nationalist approach to the concept of being African. The MPL conceded that the debate was both controversial and divisive, but was important.

“The problem that many racial minorities face is that they constitute a small percentage of the overall Economically Active Population (EAP) at the national level. This leaves many feeling deliberately excluded from the economy, forcing Indians and coloureds to consider whether the government has adopted a narrow, nationalist approach to the concept of being African,” said the MF MPL.

She cited the case of Indians whom she said barely comprised 3% of the total population, and were in danger of losing their livelihoods with decreasing quotas.

“Vulnerable racial minorities are concerned that the Employment Equity Act imposes equitable representation that logically means regional dynamics, while BBBEE or broad-based black economic empowerment regulations require companies to comply with the national EAP.

“Hence, Indian and coloured minorities will be geographically disadvantaged when applying, because our communities are still largely concentrated in apartheid group areas,” said the MF MPL.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said research showed that “in order to comply with the ANC Race Quota Act, more than 600  000 South Africans from all backgrounds will need to be replaced in their existing jobs because they have the ‘wrong’ skin colour”.

But the ANC said the parties who resisted the reforms, including the DA, were demonstrating their satisfaction with the prevailing status quo.

“The EE Bill passes the constitutional and the logical test. To suggest that it will encourage so called ‘mafia’ groups to control private companies is an outrageous and desperate ploy to appeal to the DA’s traditional conservative voters,” said the governing party.

University of KwaZulu-Natal analyst Siyabonga Ntombela said the changes to the labour laws were an admission by the ANC that it had failed dismally to transform the labour sector after 30 years in power.

“The call by Minister Nxesi for African representation in the workplace is an important matter when dealing with labour reforms, but this is not a conversation we should be having in 2023 when the ANC has been tasked with this mandate since 1994,” said Ntombela.

He added that the ANC was also at a crossroads as it sought to balance being non-racial with ensuring that Africans were properly represented.

“The ANC needs to revisit its non-­racial character because once you prioritise one particular race group over others, that is a racist move just like the National Party pre-1994,” Ntombela said.

According to the analyst the labour reforms will be a rallying point for many political parties as they sought representation in the 2024 elections.

He noted how in Gauteng, ANC provincial chairperson and Premier Panyaza Lesufi was making headway in getting the governing party to appeal more to the voting public.

“The ANC is desperate and they are now capitalising on what Panyaza Lesufi is doing in Gauteng, creating short-term employment opportunities for the unemployed youth.

“Any move by the ANC towards creating jobs will be seen as something sustainable and worth voting for the party for,” Ntombela said.

Earlier this year, Nxesi said there was no empirical evidence to indicate that the employment equity amendments in relation to regulation of sector targets might have unintended consequences for employment or in encouraging employers to change their operations to pursue restructuring or to mechanise operations.

President Cyril Ramaphosa assented to the amendment bill in April after Parliament approved it last year.


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