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Psychological aspects of discrimination in the Workplace

Psychological aspects of discrimination in the Workplace

By Dr Adelbert Scholtz

Industrial psychologist

In the past, workplace discrimination against people because of their skin colour was legally entrenched. There were laws to prohibit black people from performing certain jobs or from rising beyond a certain level in certain jobs.

For the largest part of the previous century no black policeman could rise higher than the rank of sergeant. Black policemen were not allowed to arrest white persons. Black people were barred from becoming qualified tradesmen such as bricklayers or mechanics.

Discrimination against women was also rife. Different salary scales applied for men and women who performed the same job. Women were entitled to fewer fringe benefits than their male counterparts.

Fortunately, those days are past. There are currently laws prohibiting discrimination - especially the Constitution of our country (sections 1, 7, 9, 36 and 39) and the Employment Equity Act (act 55 of 1998).

The discrimination of the past left psychological scars on many people. They were led to believe that they were second rate human beings and not worth as much as white people. They suffered humiliation, degradation and deprivation. Their self-concept suffered to a large extent and they couldn't bring themselves to believe that they could accomplish certain tasks or perform certain jobs.

This should never happen again. Unfortunately, discrimination is still not eradicated from our country. The Labour Court continuously deals with cases where employees or work seekers complain that they still suffer discrimination of some or other sort.

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on any ground, including the following: race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth. The Employment Equity Act adds the following grounds: HIV status, political opinion and family responsibility. These lists are not exhaustive and discrimination on other grounds is also prohibited.

That means that no person may be subjected to unjust and unfair treatment in the workplace because of some other quality that they have or because they belong to some or other group or category. It must be stressed, however, that not all unfair or unjust treatment amounts to discrimination. Discrimination is linked to a quality or membership of a certain group. There are other laws dealing with unjust and unfair treatment.

In the past the people affected by discrimination were mainly people of colour, women and people with disabilities. Nowadays, experience has shown, people from every conceivable group may suffer discrimination.

The pain that discrimination causes has not lessened even if we have laws prohibiting such a thing. It should be a key provision in the code of conduct of any organisation or concern that all employees and customers be treated equally and with respect and that their human dignity be upheld.

Organisations without such a policy are destined to become extinct.

Information published here is published for general information and is not intended as legal advice. The authors, editors, and publishers do not accept responsibility for any act, omission, loss, or damage occasioned by any reliance upon the contents hereof.


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Gary Watkins

Gary Watkins

Managing Director

BA LLB

C: +27 (0)82 416 7712

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