Parties join hands against amendments to Employment Equity Act

Trade union Solidarity has declared its intention to contest the proposed amendments to the Employment Equity Act.

The organisation announced on Tuesday that it signed a resolution alongside 30 other organisations and political parties including the DA, Freedom Front Plus, and ActionSA committing to a legal challenge.

The amended act, which received President Cyril Ramaphosa’s approval on April 14, incorporates section 15A that grants the employment and labour minister authority to establish numerical targets for sectors or sub-sectors in consultation with relevant sectors and the advice of the Commission for Employment Equity.

According to government, the targets aim to ensure equitable representation of qualified individuals from designated groups across all levels of employment.

The accompanying regulations to the act outline five-year sector targets for population groups, gender, and employees with disabilities in the top four occupational levels.

The act also introduces provisions for the minister to issue certificates of compliance and addresses associated matters.

Solidarity said it has conducted research on the potential impact of the proposed amendments and argues that they could have detrimental effect on the job market.

The union’s study suggests that the amendments may result in the displacement of numerous minority workers from their current positions.

Additionally, Solidarity claims government’s approach to drafting the legislation lacks careful consideration, citing evidence to support its concerns.

“The government’s political games will cause a bloodbath in the labour market. It poses a threat to the country’s economy and to the wellbeing of South African citizens. Civil society realises this too,” said Dirk Hermann, Solidarity’s chief executive.

“It is for this reason that we have gathered at this workshop. It shows that South Africans from across the spectrum will not tolerate such absurdities and that we are all prepared to put up a fight against the government’s abuses.

“Today we made history. It was one of the largest gatherings of political parties and civic organisations to date. Everyone who was present shares the conviction that we have to take decisive action against the abuse from the government.

“It was decided from within the workshop ranks that every organisation and party will from here on continue to oppose this race law, and we have signed a joint resolution in which we commit ourselves to this.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said his party will approach the high court in Pretoria to declare various sections of the act unconstitutional and invalid, including the controversial section 15A.

“In our submission, the DA will demonstrate that the term ‘numerical targets’ used by the act is a misnomer and that, in reality, the act sets rigid racial quotas for four different job levels across 18 economic sectors,” said Steenhuisen.

“The act empowers the minister to determine quotas that specify the particular demographic composition that designated employers must achieve, on pain of severe penalties – including the inability to do business with the state, the cancellation of existing state contracts, compelling orders, and fines.

“These quotas amount to job reservation based on race on a scale last seen before 1994.” 

He asserts that the act infringes upon constitutional rights such as equality, freedom of trade, occupation, and profession.

Furthermore, he argues that the act contradicts the original Employment Equity Act’s prohibition on quotas. According to Steenhuisen, this represents an unconstitutional and risky escalation of what he referred to as the ANC’s race-based social engineering efforts.

“It provides no flexibility to employers to determine what is feasible in their own business environment, instead centralising power in the hands of one minister to dictate the racial composition of workplaces across the country.

“In some provinces and sectors, it sets the quota for coloured and Indian South Africans at 0.0% and 0.1%. In other cases, such as in the Northern Cape, companies would be in violation of the law if they employ ‘too many’ black women.

“This approach is at odds with the basic economic reality that different employers in a particular sector have different employment needs and face different labour markets. One employer might need electricians, another might require coders. Another fitters and turners.

“But section 15A of the act would permit the minister to lump all of these employers together and force them to hire the same specified ratios of various race combinations.”

The DA leader explained further: “We cannot allow this draconian and race-based legislation to stand. It will not only directly lead to mass job losses, but will also accelerate capital and skills flight at a time when our economy is already in a deep crisis brought about by loadshedding and economic mismanagement.

“Ultimately, all South Africans will suffer as unemployment and poverty grows beyond already catastrophic levels.”

The public has been granted a five-day period to provide feedback on the Draft Employment Equity (EE) Regulations 2023, which pertain to the proposed establishment of sector-specific EE targets.

The deadline for submitting comments is June 12.


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