The controversial Employment Equity Amendment Bill is meant to fight white male domination in management positions and not to create tensions between black, coloured and Indian South Africans, the African National Congress (ANC) said on Tuesday.
“The amendment is meant to give employers flexibility of using either national or provincial demographics, as long as they can justify their preference,” said ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.
“A national company will be expected to use national demographics and a provincially based company will be expected to use provincial demographics,” he said.
“In view of the above explanation, the [National Working Committee] agreed that the current public debate was false and based on disinformation.”
At a meeting on Monday, the National Working Committee [NWC] reaffirmed the policy of non-racialism and non-sexism as a settled policy of the ANC.
“In implementing this policy, headcount will be necessary. The term black is inclusive of African, coloured and Indian,” said Mantashe.
“Any competition among these people who belong together must be eliminated. We should rather deal with the continued domination of management positions by white males,” he told reporters in Johannesburg.
He said the amendment would allow national companies to base their employee representation on national racial demographics, while provincial companies would be able to follow provincial profiles.
“A national company — for example Shoprite Checkers — will be expected to comply with national demographics, but a provincially based company will be expected to comply with provincial demographics.”
Mantashe said this was how Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant explained it to the NWC.
“The NWC was quite happy with that explanation.”
He said reports that the draft legislation had retained the reference to national demographics were “not factually correct”.
“The intention is to resolve the complaint from employers that they are expected to comply with both the national and regional demographics,” said Mantashe.
The proposed labour law has sparked criticism from opposition parties, trade unions and the South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR).
Trade union Solidarity’s deputy general secretary, Dirk Hermann, claimed that the amendments could amount to “a massive and unfeasible social-engineering programme”.
Hermann said in terms of the amendment, the Act would no longer recognise the economically active population (EAP) of a region, but only the national demographics of the economically active population.
That would mean that many coloured people could lose their jobs in the Western Cape.
However, Oliphant said this was an incorrect interpretation of the amendment.
The debate over the proposed legislation intensified after Solidarity posted a clip on YouTube of government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi saying last year — when he was the director general of labour — that there was an “over-concentration” and “over-supply” of coloured people in the Western Cape.
He has since apologised for the statement.
The province is governed by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and political analysts have suggested that the proposed labour law could be linked to an ANC campaign to win it back ahead of local government elections later this year.
Mantashe denied this on Tuesday.
“Policy [the non-racialism and non-sexism policy] is not about getting votes quick-quick. Elections will come and go, but you must still implement policy. It’s not a short-term issue. It’s not a Western Cape issue. It’s a national issue.”
Seeking to reassure
This week, President Jacob Zuma issued a statement in an attempt to assure members of the Indian and coloured communities that the government would not enact or implement any legislation in conflict with the Constitution and the non-racial ethos and foundations of South Africa.
“It is important to note that nowhere in the proposed change is there a proposal to remove ‘regional’ and leave ‘national’. In fact, both ‘national and regional’ were removed.”
The reason for removal of the two elements was that employers had been enquiring over the years of the labour department how they should implement both regional and national demographics of the EAP in their workplaces.
It was as a result of these enquiries that the change was being proposed.
The intended outcome of the new proposed amendment was that the employers would have the flexibility to decide whether to use regional or national demographics, depending on their operations.
“These changes do not in any way affect negatively the employment opportunities for the coloured and/or Indian population.
“In fact, it makes it easier for employers to comply with the law and create more job opportunities for all the designated groups,” Zuma said.
However, SAIRR researcher Anthea Jeffrey said on Tuesday that Zuma’s assurance was “hardly convincing” and that many questions over the bill remained unanswered. — Sapa