Employment equity committees: ignored, ineffective or simply not implemented?
The 1st October deadline for submitting employment equity reports has come and gone. For many this was a dissatisfying experience, not because the concept of employment equity is flawed or the legislation bad - which it is not - but because many employers have simply failed to implement employment equity effectively or at all.
While we don't believe this is a truly South African phenomena (see the prevalence of enforcement guidelines in other Western jurisdictions) nor is it restricted to the failure to address racial inequalities in the workplace, as gender inequality/imbalance remains a feature of corporate workplace profiles.
All too often we hear the following rationale from employers when justifying the lack of employment equity and affirmative action measures in their organisations:
>> If women want to be paid the same as their male counterparts or occupy executive positions they must make the same sacrifices men do!
>> Black (African) affirmative action candidates do not stick it out and simply job hop to the next company for more salary!
>> Employment equity committee members simply lack the ability to provide effective input on numerical targets, or appropriate affirmative action measures.
Yes it is true that regional and global economic uncertainty has resulted in limited opportunities for job creation, and that many companies have had to downsize. Yes, it is equally true that women devote their time to both work and family responsibilities. And yes, some black employees do seize any opportunity to advance their careers and increase their salaries. But who wouldn't!
We all recall having to employee so-called IT specialists (network supervisors, software developers, web designers) and having to pay premium fees for anyone who had an A+ or MCSE certificate, or even a three-month course in HTML scripting. Now, these are entry-level qualifications and rated as nothing more than a post matric qualification. In other words, the playing fields have been leveled through normal market forces, and no doubt, over the next two to three years the same will happen with over-ambitious black job opportunists. When this happens, there will be little or no justification left for the failure to implement aggressive employment equity initiatives
2. Getting serious about employment equity
Employment equity committees remain the most effective means of meeting the most elementary components of the Employment Equity Act, namely:
>> Setting of numerical targets
>> Identifying affirmative action measures, through consultation with employees and key stakeholders. The identification of affirmative action measures is also inseparable from Workplace Skills Plans in terms of the Skills Development Act.
To ensure that committee members are empowered to provide effective input employers should take into account the following principles:
>> Meetings and work groups should be scheduled during normal working hours
>> Representatives should be afforded sufficient paid time off from their normal duties to prepare for meetings, and should be furnished with agenda items prior to the meeting
>> Representatives should be paid their normal pay for participating in meetings, and should be afforded reasonable travel and accommodation expenses
EMPLOYERS NEED TO REMEMBER THAT THE REQUIREMENT TO CONSULT IS A DUTY PLACED ON THE EMPLOYER BY STATUTE AND NOT A DEMAND FROM TRADE UNIONS.
>> Meeting preparation time should include the opportunity to canvass those employees whom they represent in the consultative forum
>> Representatives should receive appropriate training in non-adversarial consultation methods, employment equity terminology; meeting dynamics, and the content of the Employment Equity Act
>> Employers should ensure that representatives have an understanding of the terms of reference of the consultative forum, an understanding of their responsibilities vis-à-vis those employees whom they represent, and the expected outcomes of the forum
>> Representatives should be given access to informative literature and resources, as well as commercial publications dealing with employment equity.
3. Training representatives
Training for employment equity committee members should address some of the following key considerations. The answers to these questions represent the core store of knowledge and insights needed by elected members to fulfill their roles as committee/form representatives.
Q: Which business, Employment Equity, Skill Development and Sector Skill priorities will guide the company when implementing Employment equity (EE) and Skill development (SD) Act requirements?
Q: What are the regulations that govern the completion of an EE plan to be submitted to the Department of Labour (Dol) annually?
Q: What needs to be done to create a single communication process that minimises the negative effects of the 'grapevine', keeps all stakeholders informed?
Q: Who will ensure that efficient human resource audits are conducted; who is responsible for determining which people management policies and practices need to change?
Q: Which people management systems need to be audited to determine the barriers to implementing the Affirmative Action (AA) requirements of the Act?
Q: What is cultural diversity, and how will this be fostered in the company?
Q: How will a single consultative body work with other role players who have responsibility for people management and development issues in the company?
Q: How will the Forum/Committee minimise administrative time and cost associated with dealing with Act requirements?
Q. What additional policies and procedures need to be created to support training and learning for grants and levy purposes?
Q: What requirements need to be met by the company to be eligible to reclaim levy grants for skill and Learnership programmes?
Q: How will the company ensure that training supports the achievement of equity goals from the outset?
Q: How can Performance Management be used to support the implementation of the Act's requirements?
Q: What will go into a first draft mandate/job description for the Forum/Committee members?
4. Compliance Provisions of the Act
The duty to consult with employee representatives is an enforceable one in terms of the Employment Equity Act, and an employer may be required to give a written undertaking that it will, within a specified period, consult with employees.
Employers serious about pursuing employment equity initiatives should re-evaluate their current strategies, and more specifically, how effective their employment equity committees have been. With the Employment Equity Act now in its third year, future reporting will place greater emphasis on the consultation requirements with employees in identifying affirmative action measures and setting aggressive numerical targets.
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