OPINION: New employment equity bill is progressive, must become law

Article from Business Report.

JOHANNESBURG – Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi has announced in his budget vote that the government is soon to table the long-awaited Employment Equity Amendment Bill in Parliament.

This is a crucial bill that seeks to strengthen the Employment Equity Act and support the nation’s efforts to eradicate the legacies of apartheid discrimination, and inequality in the workplace.

It is a powerful bill that employers, unions and workers should familiarise themselves with to ensure that when it becomes law, most likely in mid-2020, we all understand its rights and obligations.

Critics of the government’s efforts to achieve employment equity will complain that it is unnecessary 25 years into democracy, and that it would bully business.

However, the complaints are not based on fact.

In the public service, women constitute 45.3percent of employees, 39percent of senior management and 32.6percent of top management. The private sector fares far worse with women only making up 32.3percent of senior management and a mere 21.6percent of top management.

The statistics for persons with disabilities are a shocking indictment on employers. While they constitute at least 10percent of the nation, they make up less than 1percent of employees in the public and private sectors, despite the employment equity target of 2percent.

The EE Amendment Bill has six essential components:

Targets – It empowers the minister to set employment-equity targets for economic sectors, as well as regions. This is crucial as many sectors are significantly untransformed, eg they are still overwhelmingly white and/or male-dominated (such as the insurance, banks, and mining industries).

It allows the minister to set regional targets given that racial diversity in South Africa often has regional differences, such as the Western Cape and Northern Cape are provinces with coloured majorities or KwaZulu-Natal where 10percent is of Indian descent or Limpopo where minorities constitute less than 3percent of the population.

Plans – The bill requires employers with more than 50 employees to submit employment equity plans for their companies, spelling out how they will achieve these targets.

Employers are then required to submit annual reports to the department. Employers will complain about this, but the bill’s regulations have provided user-friendly forms to make it much easier to develop plans and submit annual reports. The point is to spur employment equity and not to bog companies down with paperwork.

Remuneration – The bill requires employers to pay workers equal pay for equal work. This is still a major problem facing millions of women as well as African, Coloured and Indian workers, 25 years into democracy.

The bill clarifies what is discrimination, as well as what workers can do to when facing such abuses such as lodging grievances with the CCMA or the Labour Courts.

This will empower the CCMA and the courts when making judgments on equal pay cases.

Testing – Increasingly job applicants are being subjected to very dubious psychological tests by employers. These are often irrelevant, unfair, unscientific, and unregulated.

Frequently, such tests have been used to discriminate against black or women applicants or to favour jobs for pals.

The bill now requires such tests to be fair and relevant to the job, not be discriminatory or biased and most importantly, that they must be approved by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

An aggrieved employer can now refer dubious tests to the CCMA.

The employer will then be forced to provide proof why the tests are relevant and fair, and that they have been approved by the HPCSA.

Inspection – As part of ensuring the employment equity objectives become reality, the bill seeks to strengthen the hand of the labour inspectors.

The inspectors are compelled to inspect workplaces and empowered to issue employers with compliance orders.

Nxesi also announced that the number of labour inspectors are to be increased from 1400 to 1900, and that an additional 200 health and safety inspectors are to be employed. However, given a labour force of more than 12 million, this is still far too few.

The department will be establishing a toll-free hotline where workers can SMS the names and addresses of employers who are in violation of any labour laws.

This information will be given to the labour inspectors who will then raid, fine, and issue compliance orders to offending employers.

Tenders – Companies seeking to do business with the state will be compelled to submit a certificate from the department confirming that they are in compliance with the Employment Equity Act and its objectives, and that they do not pay their employees less than the national minimum wage. This will ensure that recalcitrant employers abide by the progressive labour laws.

Cosatu has engaged extensively on this bill with other stakeholders at the National Economic Department and Labour Council (Nedlac). While employers complain about filling in forms, these have been made simple and user-friendly.

Some will object to being made to comply but it is crucial that we do so, if we are serious about building a non-racial and non-sexist society.

To do nothing means that we are happy to see women, persons with disabilities and African, Coloured and Indian workers remaining in low-paying jobs.

If we want to be a humane, modern and productive economy, we must accept the responsibilities that come with it.

As trade unions, we have to ensure all our shop stewards, members and workers know their rights, and challenge and report employers who break the laws.

Cosatu looks forward to seeing this progressive bill become a reality, and will ensure its speedy passage through Parliament and its signing by President Cyril Ramaphosa.