Debate on Employment Equity amendment Act rages on, legal challenge looming

Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi. File Picture: GCIS.

Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi. File Picture: GCIS.

Published May 22, 2023


Durban - The DA and civil society organisations have accused the Department of Labour of trying to amend the Employment Equity Act (EEA) to sideline Indian, coloured and white workers, while the ANC and Cosatu have dismissed the claims, saying that the official opposition is misrepresenting the proposals.

DA leader John Steenhuisen, while speaking to residents in Chatsworth ahead of by-elections in the area, called for a defiance campaign that would see communities reject the amendment while the party prepares to escalate the issue to the Constitutional Court.

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

On May 12, Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi published a gazette, calling for comments on the EEA sectoral targets. Companies have been given 30 days to offer their input and comment and in terms of the act, and the Department of Labour must prescribe sectoral employment demographic targets in each province for companies that have more than 50 employees.

Steenhuisen on Saturday said that the amendments to the act set quotas for every workplace and in every economic sector.

He described the amendment as forced quotas, saying if companies didn’t comply, they would be punished and that businesses could be fined up to 10% of their annual turnover. He said that should the act be promulgated into law, the number of Indian people working in skilled positions would be reduced.

Steenhuisen said if the act stood, businesses would be driven into bankruptcy through fines and punishment from the government, that young people would emigrate and skills would leave the country.

“The ANC is introducing a law that will ban entire groups of South Africans from working in specific areas or sectors.

“This race law, in the year 2023, is effectively saying that people with certain skin colours do not belong in certain areas,” Steenhuisen said.

ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri accused the DA of propaganda. Bhengu-Motsiri said the party was intent on a non-racial society.

“Such a policy would be inconsistent with the entire ethos of the ANC, particularly the pursuit of the National Democratic Revolution, which seeks to democratise our society and all spheres of the economy, including the labour market.

“The ANC-led liberation movement has always been consistent in its pursuit of a non-racial and just society. Building a non-racial labour market is a fundamental aspect of the National Democratic Revolution.”

Cosatu’s Sizwe Pamla said they supported the amendment as there had been a lack of appetite to comply with the act and many employers had had discussions on whether it was still necessary to have discussions on employment equity.

IFP President Velinkosini Hlabisa said the party was still looking to drive legislation to force companies to ensure that South Africans were the majority employed in the country.

“The ANC wants to be seen taking a hardline stance without taking a stance on the real issues affecting the country.”

Hlabisa said they had proposed an 80:20 ratio – 80% South African and 20% foreign national and the bill would not apply to skills that were scarce in the country, but was mainly focused on people with lower-skilled jobs.

ActionSA president Herman Mashaba said while they supported economic transformation, they were concerned that the amendment may exclude the marginalised.

“South Africa’s experience over the past few decades has shown that this cannot be achieved through strict numerical targets set by the draft Employment Equity regulations.

“ActionSA is concerned that the strict EEA targets will have the unintended consequence of excluding people who were previously disadvantaged from becoming employed.”

Non-profit organisation Sakeliga said it was opposed to state interference in private enterprises and its lawyers had written to Nxesi, warning him that his regulations on sectoral targets in the workplace and the accompanying process for public participation were incoherent and incomprehensible and should be withdrawn.

“Sakeliga is already busy preparing court papers to have the amended act reviewed and the most objectionable parts of it set aside. The draft regulations in terms of the act are unintelligible and incoherent,” the organisation said.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said the issue of employment equity had been gradually creeping into election campaigns and even was an issue for the DA at its policy conference.

“The ANC is taking a hardline position to make it appear to the majority that they are on their side.

“This is a boutique political issue because there are no jobs. The fight should be focused on the high unemployment and preventing companies from leaving the country.”

Another analyst Professor Sipho Seepe said the act was meant to deal with the transformation of the economy, but it had not made a dent in society.

“Creating employment is critical. This is something that is politically seductive to deal with rather than deal with the bigger issues but the majority of people will not benefit from amendments to the act,” Seepe said.

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