20 Apr 1998

20 April 1998


Four years after our transition to a democratic state, the economy of
our country remains largely in the hands of those privileged by apartheid.
The market place has barely begun to be deracialised. Management is, with
a few exceptions, largely white dominated, and where companies claim to
have made progress in correcting the historic imbalances amongst management,
this apparent progress often consists of token appointments, with black
managers appointed to symbolic positions, without real decision-making
powers. Of top managerial positions 96.4 per cent of jobs in South Africa
are still held by whites. In the last three years there has only been a
2.3 per cent increase in the appointments of Blacks to senior management
levels, mainly in administrative areas, not in policy making positions.
In the almost invisible middle management level the increase has only been
1.6 per cent.

South Africa has the most unequal distribution of income in the world.
The bottom 20 per cent of income earners receive 1.5 per cent of national
income, while the wealthiest 10 per cent earn 50 per cent. Poverty is overwhelmingly
concentrated in the African and Coloured population. 95 per cent of Africans
are poor, and 33 per cent of the coloured population live in poverty.

It is in this context that the Employment Equity Bill was drafted, after
the Green Paper, "Employment and Occupational Equity: Policy Proposals",
of July 1996, allowing for extensive consultation with all interested parties.

As legislators we need to take some action to ensure that the workplace
becomes more representative at all levels of the South African population.
The ANC government believes that in every workplace there should be a culture
of non-discrimination and diversity. We ant a fair deal for all workers.
We cannot wait for this to happen spontaneously, as the economic climate

Key Provisions of the Bill

  • The Bill can be divided into two main areas. The first part prohibits
    discrimination in employment, while the second part introduces affirmative
    action programmes to deal with apartheid-linked discrimination.
  • All employers are required to promote "equal opportunity and ....
    to eliminate unfair discrimination in any employment policy or practice"
    [Section 4]
  • "No person may discriminate against an employee on...grounds...(of)
    race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, family responsibility, ethnic
    or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion,
    conscience belief, political opinion, culture, language and birth"
    [Section 5(1)]
  • Racial and sexual harassment also constitute unfair discrimination
  • Medical testing is prohibited except in specific circumstances
  • All these protections also apply for applicants for employment
  • The burden of proof is placed on the employer. This means that the
    employer has to justify any action that might be considered unfair discrimination.

These aspects of the Bill have received little publicity. What the opposition
has tried to do is to create fear and insecurity by attacking the Affirmative
Action aspects of the Bill. They have claimed that the Bill will reracialise
South Africa, that it will lower standards, that it introduces quotas,
that it encourages rigidity in the work place and will place an unsound
economic burden on business.

The Facts about Affirmative Action and the Employment Equity Bill

  • The Bill does not require fixed quota of employees for each of the
    different races. The Bill limits the scope of affirmative action to what
    it calls "designated groups" - Black people, women and people
    with disabilities. The Bill does not distinguish between people apartheid
    defined as not white. It defines black as meaning Africans, Coloureds and
  • The Bill will not lower standards. Throughout the Bill the term "suitably
    qualified people" is used. The Bill states quite clearly that no employer
    is required to appoint anyone who is not suitably qualified [Section 12(3)(b)
  • The Bill does not impose fixed targets. In fact, the Bill in section
    12(3)(a) explicitly rejects fixed quotas. Rather, it requires each workplace
    to set its own targets. These are agreed after consultation with workers
    and trade unions, and must take into account the particular circumstances
    of each workplace.
  • Each workplace does not have to reflect national demographics. The
    Bill allows for maximum flexibility. Employers and workers, when setting
    targets must take into account

    • "the pool of suitably qualified people from designated groups
      from which the employer may reasonably be expected to appoint or promote
    • "regional demographics"
    • "economic and financial factors relevant to the sector" and
    • "the financial circumstances of the employer"

  • The Bill exempts all businesses of less that 49 workers from the need
    to produce and monitor employment equity plans

Commission for Employment Equity

This Bill establishes the Commission for Employment Equity as an advisory
body to the Minister. It represents the interests of women, the disabled
and representatives of NEDLAC. It will play a role in drafting codes of
good practice and the regulations. . It will serve as the monitoring body
for the implementation of employment equity

Key Political Lines

With this Bill the ANC once again shows its commitment to redressing
the imbalances of the past without compromising the ability of business
to function efficiently and profitably.

It sets out practical and workable steps which will enable those who
have been deprived of their rightful place in the South African workforce.

The Bill ensures that unqualified people will not be employed to fill
racial quotas, but ensures that suitably qualified people from all sectors
of society are given the opportunity to contribute to the economic development
of our nation, and to enjoy the fruits of our growing economy.