No sunset clause on Employment Equity - Mildred Oliphant
Minister says such a call shows callous disregard of history and its negative ramifications
Speech by the Minister of Labour, Hon. Mildred N Oliphant, MP on the occasion of the Employment Equity and Transformation Indaba, Birchwood, Johannesburg
18 April 2013
Chairperson & Commissioners of the CEE
Director General of Labour
Member of Parliament
CEOs of Companies
Senior Government Officials
Department of Labour staff
Members of the media
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning and a warm welcome to you all.
This Employment Equity and Transformation Indaba creates an opportunity and a platform for all us to pause and reflect on the transformation journey travelled thus far and where we want to see ourselves in the near future. We host this conference on the eve of celebrating the second decade of freedom and indeed, we have to reflect on where we come from, where we are currently to help us chart the way forward.
However, to do that, we need to take a few steps backward and remind ourselves that on 26 June 1955 the ‘real' Congress of the People declared in Kliptown that, "all shall be equal before the law". It further added that all laws that discriminate on the grounds of race colour and belief shall be repealed.
This clarion call was the response to the debilitating oppression that was visited on the majority of people in this country; and the working class in particular. Our very dignity and humanity was undermined by apartheid policies.
On the eve of the second decade of democracy, we must be true on the promise we have made to our children and their children's children to uproot all the effects of apartheid policies. Today there are those who say that the two decades should have been enough to deal with the last vestiges of the abhorrent discriminatory system.
They point to the impressive Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution and declare that we are all equal. In the eyes of the law we are. But as we can attest, there remains a serious gap between those who were given privilege at birth and those that were even denied dignity on their death.
To further the spirit and letter of the Constitution, we have proposed a number of amendments to our labour legislation and I would like to appeal to the members of Parliament here to help us in making sure that these laws are passed without further delays.
At the dawn of democracy, we committed ourselves to the eradication of social and economic inequalities, especially those that are systemic in nature, which were generated in our history by colonialism, apartheid and patriarchy, and which brought pain and suffering to the great majority of our people.
Our Constitution upholds the values of human dignity, equality, freedom and social justice in a united, non-racial and non-sexist society where every South African may flourish. Section 9 of the Constitution provides for the enactment of national legislation to prevent or prohibit unfair discrimination and to promote the achievement of equality.
This implies the advancement, by special legal and other measures, of historically disadvantaged individuals, communities and social groups who were dispossessed of their land and resources, deprived of their human dignity and who continue to endure the consequences.
South Africa also has international obligations under binding treaties and customary international law especially human rights, which promote equality and prohibit unfair discrimination. Among these obligations are those specified in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The country is also obliged to comply with International Labour Standards for ratified conventions. Of particular note is the ILO Convention No. 100 on Equal Remuneration, which deals with Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value and Convention No. 111 on Discrimination which is concerned with the Elimination of Unfair Discrimination in the Workplace. ILO member states are required to take active measures to guarantee these rights.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is the priority of government to deal with the inequalities left behind by the apartheid legacy to bring about socio-economic freedom. The Employment Equity Act, Skills Development Act, Promotion of Equality and the Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA) and the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Act were some of the legislation enacted to accomplish this task.
The passing of the Employment Equity Act marked a turning point in our history as it is the first equality legislation to be passed by a democratically elected Parliament in 1998 to give effect to the Constitutional provisions relating to equality in South Africa. This piece of legislation sought to contribute to the restoration of human dignity and human rights that were deprived to the majority of South Africans by:-
- Promoting equal opportunity and fair treatment in employment through the elimination of unfair discrimination; and
- Implementing affirmative action measures to redress the disadvantages in employment experienced by designated groups achieving equality in the workplace.
It was necessary to introduce the Employment Equity Act to deal with the disparities in the workplace, which manifested themselves in the deliberate exclusion of Black people, women and people with disabilities. The result was the gross under representation of these designated groups from positions of authority and decision-making as well as skills development opportunities. Unfair discrimination is illegal in South Africa.
Many Black people are relegated to lower level jobs in the name of lack of skills, whilst there are many graduates from designated groups who are either sitting at home unemployed or under-employed.
A recent study conducted by the HSRC to investigate the supply trends of graduates in higher education institutions, focussing particularly on designated groups since the promulgation of the Employment Equity Act, found that; in fact relatively good progress has been made in terms of the level and type of qualifications attained by graduates from the "designated groups" in most fields of study previously held by minority groups.
This should provide employers with a pool of suitably qualified employees. Therefore, the call by the President in this year's State of the Nation Address wherein he pleaded with the private sector to absorb about 11 000 graduates from FET colleges is relevant. There is a pool of suitably qualified graduates with knowledge and skills out there waiting to be given equal opportunities to access employment opportunities to implement their expertise.
On broader economic transformation, the revised Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment Act and Codes, which aim to ppromote economic transformation and participation of Black people including women, workers, youth, people with disabilities and people living in rural areas in the economy through diverse but integrated socio-economic strategies are being finalised to ensure their alignment with the transformation agenda in the country. This is to ensure the participation of more Black South Africans, particularly women and people with disabilities in the economy.
Ladies and gentlemen
The remnants of Apartheid still persist. Although the public sector has managed to transform, many employers in the private sector are still found wanting in terms of implementing employment equity, as it is ‘business as usual' for many employers. The majority of the workplaces are still "Lilly White" at the top and often male dominated with a few pockets of Black executives. The pace of transforming our society and notably, the labour market is still very slow.
There is a need for collaboration with all social partners and stakeholders involved to address the issues of transformation in our country. The EE Roadshows conducted by the Department of Labour on an annual basis provide a platform for employers to interact with the Department. It affords them the opportunity to raise any concerns which they may have, especially if those concerns have to do with compliance with the law. A mind-set shift is crucial to drive change in the workplace and hence the country in order to bridge the equity gap.
This has necessitated the Department to introduce amendments to the Employment Equity Act. The amendments, will amongst other things, assist to fast track transformation in the workplace and enable the achievement of our constitutional mandate by:
- Clearly defining who the beneficiaries of affirmative action are;
- Eliminating unfair discrimination in terms of pay equity on the basis of race, gender & disability. ‘Equal pay for work of equal value'
- Providing better dispute resolution mechanisms by facilitating access to the CCMA and the Labour Court for arbitration on unfair discrimination cases; and
- Strengthening compliance mechanisms in the Act, including shortening the enforcement processes and of course, increasing the penalties for non-compliance.
In conclusion, we are aware that there are those who calling for a sunset clause on employment equity. But it is hardly noon. To make this call now is mischievous at best or at worst a callous disregard of history and its negative ramifications that will be felt way beyond the two decades of freedom.
The 13th CEE Annual Report that will be launched later this morning will further attest to this fact and will show that we have not yet arrived at the proverbial Jordan. Not by a long shot. A lot of work still needs to be done to create equitable and transformed workplaces, which are free from unfair discrimination.
Issued by the Department of Labour, April 18 2013
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