As the Employment Equity Amendment Bill makes its way to Parliament for deliberation, the Department of Employment and Labour has set the ball in motion for the introduction of sector-specific Employment Equity numerical targets.
“We are already busy with negotiations with different sectors in terms of the targets. We are not waiting for the bill. The process has started already,” said the department’s Chief Director of Labour Relations, Thembinkosi Mkhaliphi, on Wednesday.
In an interview with SAnews, Mkhaliphi said consultations have already been had with the mining, banking and retail sectors.
This comes as Cabinet on Tuesday announced its approval of the Employment Equity Amendment Bill 2020, to be submitted to Parliament.
The amendments empower the Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi, in consultation with sector stakeholders, to introduce enabling provisions for the setting of sector-specific Employment Equity numerical targets.
“We will be contacting other sectors to set up the targets and see whether we can reach an agreement. We would want those that we have agreed on, to be published, so that citizens know what targets companies should meet going forward,” said Mkhaliphi, in an interview held at the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) head office, in Pretoria.
The bill is a result of insignificant transformation in the country’s labour market.
Reflecting on the Employment Equity Act (EEA) that was introduced 21 years ago, Mkhaliphi said there has been limited transformation.
“Maybe it was because of the euphoria of transformation, [former President Nelson] Mandela magic [and] that everybody will embrace transformation and therefore companies will come to the party and accept that transformation and equity make business sense.
“The law then moved from the premise that there should be no involvement of government enforcing transformation in terms of target setting. It left it to companies themselves to set their own targets and goals,” he said.
Government’s role then was to monitor these targets.
Impact on small business
The bill also reduces the regulatory burden on small employers. The Bill promotes equal opportunity and fair treatment in employment through the elimination of unfair discrimination.
Employers with less than 50 employees will no longer have to report on their employment equity targets, irrespective of their turnover.
“It is important that we give a break for small business in terms of regulations. While [this bill] is strengthening enforcement in terms of targets set, it also makes it easy for business to operate by lessening the regulatory burden,” he said.
Principle of target setting
Asked whether the sector targets could stifle business, Mkhaliphi said current legislation states that employers can set their own targets and that the introduction of government setting the targets is not new.
“Target setting is not new, except that now government comes into the picture in setting the target. The principle of setting targets is not new, therefore it can’t be said that this is a drastic change that will affect business.”
Mkhaliphi admits that not everyone at Nedlac was happy with the proposed changes.
“It’s a give and take. We put the proposal of lessening the burden on small business to sweeten the carrot. It was also debated at the Employment Equity Commission, where business was also represented.”
If passed, the bill will also ensure that an employment equity certificate of compliance becomes a precondition for access to state contracts.
“What we intend to do, is to promulgate that section because that section – the one that prevents companies who are not complying, from doing business with government – hasn’t been promulgated in the last 21-years.
“If you do not meet the target that you [as a business] set for yourself in meeting the sector target, you’re not going to get the certificate of compliance because the law introduces the certificate of compliance that companies should get so that they can do business with government.”
Mkhaliphi dismissed the notion that the bill will inadvertently lead to job losses.
“Unless if you’re saying that by putting black people into positions, you’re reducing productivity for companies, that evidence is not there. We do not think that it will affect business. It is how you run your company that affects your business. This notion that black people mean incompetency is not correct,” he said.