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Full transcript: Remarks by the Minister of Labour on the occasion of the media launch of the 17th Annual Employment Equity report held in Pretoria.

Originally published here (Department of Labour website): Report originally posted online by Lloyd Ramutloa — 9 May 2017.

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Remarks by the Minister of Labour on the occasion of the media launch of the 17th Annual Employment Equity report held in Pretoria

Programme Director
Deputy Minister; i-Nkosi Advocate Phathekile Holomisa
Director General of the Department of Labour: Mr Lamati
Chairperson of the Commission; Ms Tabea Kabinde
Officials of the Department here present
Members of the Media
Viewers and Listeners from all corners of South Africa
Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning…

Let me take this opportunity to thank the Employment Equity Chairperson, Ms Kabinde and her fellow Commissioners for preparing this report so that we can all take stock of progress we are making and identify the root causes of those areas that remain problematic. It’s been twelve months since the release of the last report which as expected, generated robust debates of all kinds. I hope this one will equally trigger the same levels of robustness in the national discourse.

We note that there are still those who continue to be critical of the continued existence of Employment Equity policies even labeling it “Apartheid or racism in Reverse”.

We also acknowledge those who are calling on the ANC government to strengthen the existing Employment Equity Law.

We challenge those who believe that the Employment Equity and affirmative action policies have gone passed their sell-by date, to read this Commission’s report carefully and check if in all honesty, it is really the time to scrap Employment Equity and affirmative action. Do they truly believe that we have achieved what the Employment Equity Act was set out do?

If in doubt on how to respond to this question, reading this report will help them to understand that their call to scrap Affirmative Action and Employment Equity policies, is absurd and pre-mature at best. Let us remind everybody that introducing Employment Equity was for all intents and purposes, a recognition that South Africa comes from an ugly past, where, discrimination was the cornerstone of social and economic engineering.

Ladies and Gentlemen the aims and objectives of the Employment Equity Act have not changed from, giving expression to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, The Freedom Charter of 1955, the ILO Convention No 111 of 1958, Section 9 of the South African Bill of Rights of 1996, and most recently, the 2009 and 2014 ANC Election Manifestos.

The 2014 ANC Election manifesto, specifically called on us to; “Take steps to strengthen existing laws to ensure faster change in employment equity in all workplaces, by enforcing an accelerated implementation of employment equity targets.”

We have indeed strengthened the existing labour laws, and the amendments to the Employment Equity Act were signed into law in January 2014.

Whilst it is too early to see if at all this is giving us the desired outcomes, however, we take solace from the fact that already, there are signs of improvements, all-be-it small at this stage.

The Employment Equity and Affirmative Action remain the only instruments to redress fundamental labour market inequities, and to eliminate discrimination on the basis of demographic profile, (Race & Gender), as well as disability and HIV status. It is the only show in town Ladies and Gentlemen, and for that reason we have no choice, but to make it work.

The Employment Equity Report that is being launched this morning demonstrates in no uncertain terms that, what the act seeks to achieve, is disappointingly still far from being accomplished.
I urge you therefore, not to be discouraged by the picture we see in this report, but to use it as a source of inspiration to work even harder moving forward.

In June 1968, the President of the ANC, Oliver Reginald Tambo, on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights, said, and I quote; “The antagonism of the South African racist regime towards the Declaration of Human Rights, is not based on any complicated ideas, derived from political philosophy or ideology. The simple fact is that, for every section of the Declaration, the statute law of South Africa has a provision, which contains a direct and express infringement.

South Africa has the distinction of being the only country in the world, which boldly and unashamedly, acts in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as part of its avowed policy.
Africans do not have the right to a job and in fact, are legally prevented from doing a large variety of jobs which are reserved for whites. Our people do not have the right to equal opportunity in all fields of life “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion”. Close quote.

Way before the National Party came into power in 1948, Arthur Keppel-Jones was once quoted by the President of the ANC, Oliver Reginald Tambo, as having said, and I quote; “the salvation of the country can only lie in the reversal of historic tendencies, a reversal so thorough, as to constitute a revolution”.

Ladies and Gentlemen; That is exactly the basis for the Employment Equity; Salvation of the Country and reversal of historic tendencies.

Whilst it may not as yet reached its revolution status, but it might quickly assume that character considering what we are pondering to do in the immediate future. I will briefly touch on that before concluding my remarks.

The President of the ANC, OR Tambo, will be pleased to know, that the ANC government has responded to the concerns he raised back in 1968. We have put in place policies that deal directly with these issues, and we already see progress on all fronts. We may not be where we want to be yet, but marching on is what we are determined to do.

Chairperson and your fellow Commissioners; Your overview demonstrates clearly that whilst we have made some progress, there is still a long way to go, as there are many who are still holding on to outdated historic tendencies. Apartheid hang-over, others call it.
I believe it will be very incorrect, to say that we have overcome the historic tendencies that Arthur Keppel-Jones raised many years ago, and what OR Tambo said in 1968?… but are we doing something about it? Oh yes we are, and victory is certain.

I submit Ladies and Gentlemen; that it will be useless to assume that relatively good administrative compliance, which is all I can deduce from the majority of the designated employers’ EE Reports, will translate into the impact we need. If a designated employee obtains a promotion, but it is stripped-off the authority that comes with it, whilst this may meet the administrative compliance requirements, it will on a grand scale, be going against the grain of what is intended by this law.

What joy will a designated employee derive from a promotion that is hollow? What value does a nice sounding title with no substance add? Nothing, Zero.
Therefore we need to examine carefully, those areas where administrative compliance is seen to be relatively good, whether or not these are significant enough and indeed give us the desired impact. I have also observed the tendency that, when there are challenges in achieving our stated objectives, people are quick to blame the law, when in most instances it is not the law that is a culprit, but the negative attitudes of those who are supposed to implement the law.

Programme Director; I must say that the spirit and the letter of our Employment Equity Act, ticks all the right boxes and it enjoys international recognition as being among the best in the world. The trouble seems to lie with the low levels of compliance and absolutely nothing to do with its construct and design.

Whilst the general tendency is to blame the employers for non-compliance, I strongly believe that there are instances where workers, unwittingly add to this problem through complacency.

There have been cases where some workers seem to have no clue, about the content of Employment Equity Plans and Reports that are submitted by their employers. This raises fundamental questions, such as;

1. Do workers really co-craft these plans and co-sign the final reports, before they are submitted to the department?

2. Do worker representatives monitor compliance by their respective employers, if so, to what extent are they taking full advantage of the recently introduced amendments?

Chairperson; it is against this background that I call on workers to be vigilant, by ensuring that they truly scrutinize the equity plans and reports, before being submitted to the department. Workers must become the extra eyes and ears of our inspectorate and the Commission, and report things that appear to be violations. Workers need to understand the implications of not making time and effort, to ensure that nothing about them, without them, is allowed to go unchecked.

On the other hand, the designated employers must also understand that the Commission and our Inspectorate, are not only there to enforce legislation, but they are also there to assist those designated employers that need assistance in order to comply. However, this does not apply to those who choose to hide, with the hope that they will not be caught out.
Let it also be known that, repeat offenders and those who choose not to seek help, will not be spared.
Chairperson; Another source of grave concern from where I sit, is that at the ILO, all social partners Business, Labour and Government would agree on what constitute international best practice, but when we get back home, some of them behave as if it is the first time they come across what needs to be done.

It is also hard to believe that social partners would agree at Nedlac on what must be incorporated in a legislation, but do very little to walk the talk thereafter.

For example, we have all agreed at the ILO to promote equal opportunities for women and men in pursuit of Decent Work, which simply means fairly-paid productive work, carried out in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Yet there is very little evidence that these are being pursued with the urgency it deserves.

Let me once again take this opportunity to thank the Chairperson and her fellow Commissioners for their work, and the effort that has gone into compiling this analytical report. The Commission’s data analysis, lifts the critical areas that require urgent attention, and as such, we will not be “shooting in the dark”, in our search and endeavours to find solutions.

I must point out however, that the Report once again, points to the painfully slow pace of Transformation in the South African Labour Market. Black People, Women and Persons with Disabilities remain severely under-represented in all aspects of the Employment Equity. It also mirrors the glaring lack of appetite for transformation especially by big Corporates.

It is very concerning that there are just too many JSE listed companies that are completely ignoring the law.
To date there are more than 21 companies that have been fined for non-compliance and several others that are on the verge of being fined. JSE listed companies alone, account for more than 50% of the companies that have issued fines for non-compliance. Some commentators ridicule the maximum amount that an offending employer could be fined, as too small to be a deterrent as some employers simply budget for it just in case they get caught.

It is this state of affairs that leaves us with no option, but to consider, drafting-in harsher consequences for non-compliance. It’s time to “up the ante” and this may include promulgating the “stick” sections of the Employment Equity Act because quite frankly, the “carrot” sections have not delivered the desired results. We are seriously considering approaching the President to enact the more punitive Sections and Chapters of the EE Act, which were, initially excluded from the earlier promulgation.
This will give the Employment Equity Act, real teeth and will bite where it hurts the most, and that is, designated employers’ revenue.

We can however, claim with pride that most of what the President of the ANC, OR Tambo spoke about in 1968 have been achieved, Today, through the Employment Equity Act, our people do have the right to equal opportunity in the workplace without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, all that is remaining, is to translate these rights into something that our people can experience and feel on a daily basis.

Once again let me point out that, given the magnitude of the challenge at hand, there is no way that government can undertake this journey all by itself. We need the support and unconditional commitment from all our social partners.
Ladies and Gentlemen; some observers believe that South Africans are sometimes too harsh to themselves in terms of playing down the achievements of its young democracy. Others are saying this country has achieved so much in changing the policy landscape, relative to how long the ANC government has been in power. Are we being too harsh to ourselves? You be the judge.

To the Commissioners, thank you for driving your out-reach programme in the period under review, the slight improvement in the submission of reports could as well be attributed to that very effort.

Ladies and Gentlemen; I officially launch the 17th Employment Equity report and accordingly place it in the public domain, as a point of reference as we continue in our quest for social justice. Let us all soldier on Ladies and Gentlemen.

I thank you!

Adrian Baillie-Stewart

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