190711 Woolworths expects both earnings per share and headline earnings per share for the year to 26 June will be between 20 percent and 30 percent higher.photo by Simphiwe Mbokazi

Trade union Solidarity has challenged Woolworths to a Labour Court duel to test the Employment Equity Act, after the company used the legislation to justify why it excluded white people from applying for certain jobs.

The retailer’s recruitment policy has been thrust in the spotlight after a KwaZulu-Natal blogger, Justin Harrison, took to Twitter and Facebook to blast it for saying in one of its job advertisements that positions were open to African, coloured and Indian candidates only.

His comments gained traction in cyberspace, and this week, in addition to calls to boycott Woolworths stores, Solidarity launched an internet campaign against the company, calling on it to withdraw the advertisement and amend the wording to allow

white people to also apply.

Woolworths has denied allegations on the internet that it was no longer employing white people, but said it did give preference to some job applicants to ensure diversity.

Dirk Hermann, deputy general secretary of Solidarity, said the Woolworths job advert would not stand up in court.

“Woolworths is saying that [its] ad campaign is in line with the Employment Equity Act. We say that it is not in line with employment equity,” he said. “The act does not allow an absolute barrier [to exclude people], so it will not stand in the court of law. We are prepared to go to court with them to test the case. Let the judges decide. A court case like that will help and at least give South Africans legal certainty.”

Sam Ngumeni, Woolworths’ chief operating officer, said the company had noted Solidarity’s correspondence and would study it.

He said the company was committed to transformation, and the spirit of diversity.

“Over the past few days, we have been dealing with rumours and allegations that we have racist recruitment processes.

“This could not be further from the truth. Our employees are representative of the demographics of South Africa – something we are proud of,” Ngumeni said.

“In order to meet our transformation commitments we use various mechanisms, such as designation, to deliver on our employment equity plan, which is in line with the Employment Equity Act,” he said. “Jobs are only designated and preference indicated where there is a need to address representation and ensure the diversity of our teams. Other than that, all other jobs are open to applicants from all demographic groups.”

Constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos said it was not unconstitutional to call for blacks-only candidates.

“In fact, section 15(1) of the Employment Equity Act places a legal duty on any company with more than 50 employees to implement employment equity measures ‘to ensure that suitably qualified people from designated groups’ (including blacks, women and people with disabilities) have ‘equal employment opportunities and are equitably represented in all occupational categories and levels in the workforce’,” he wrote in his blog.

“Earmarking certain posts or certain advancement opportunities for black applicants in an occupational category in which black people are under-represented is therefore mandated by the act and therefore would seldom be deemed to be illegal (despite what Solidarity claims),” De Vos said. - Daily News