Employment equity?is lagging

2014-04-13 15:01

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White domination at the workplace may be receding slowly, but positive discrimination is alive and well, writes Dewald van Rensburg

White domination in the workplace is receding at all levels of the corporate ladder, but very, very slowly. At the top and senior management levels, whites still get most of the new appointments.

The clearest evidence that positive discrimination is actually happening is at the third tier, the professional occupations.

It is the only level among the top three where whites did not still get the largest amount of new appointments, according to the 14th yearly report of the Commission for Employment Equity (CEE).

The report this week once again showed that about one-fifth of top managers at large companies are black, while the overwhelming majority are white, especially white males.

At the bottom end of semiskilled and unskilled jobs, Africans are still slightly overrepresented.

At the release of the report at an indaba in Sandton this week, it was clear that organised business and the government still differ on why change is so slow.

Cas Coovadia, acting CEO of Business Unity SA (Busa) dismissed the idea that a lack of black advancement is simply due to “pure racism”.

“Stakeholders are not unpacking the real reasons,” he said, adding that there should be a “tough” conversation about these.

Coovadia did not elaborate on the real reasons, but said Busa believed the National Development Plan (NDP) lays the basis for talks – probably a reference to the NDP’s overwhelming emphasis on education and skills development.

This contrasted with Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, who lashed out at those who use skills shortages as an excuse and instead pinned the CEE report’s figures on “unfair discrimination practices in the workplace [that] have led to under-utilisation of the greater portion of the productive population”.

“It may be expressed in clever words like ‘lack of experience’ ... but in the end those at the coalface feel the racism and exclusion,” she said.

The most noteworthy challenge to South Africa’s racial division of labour is in the middle of the corporate hierarchy, not at the top.

The CEE report gives a snapshot of transformation in progress by dissecting hiring and promotion at the companies covered – 5?000 large employers with a total of 4.85 million permanent employees.

White people still enjoyed the largest amount of appointments and promotions at the top and senior management levels.

Even though 50.8% of 3?221 new appointments and promotions at the top level went to whites, this is lower than whites’ existing share in top jobs – 63%.

Africans got 27% of the appointments at the top, which is higher than their 20% share in these jobs.

In other words, the extreme level of white domination is not being sustained with new appointments, but slowly eroded by black appointments.

This dynamic was most pronounced in the third tier, that of “professionally qualified and experienced specialists and mid-management”.

This is the largest of the occupational levels where the racial make-up is still heavily skewed in favour of whites.

At the covered companies there are 418?000 professionals, as opposed to 22?571 top managers and 84?527 senior managers.

Of the 106?000 professional appointments and promotions, whites got 32% against their 41% share in jobs. At this level, Africans got 47.4% of appointments against their 38.4% representation.

Anyone looking for the bulk of the black middle class would have to go down one level to the “skilled” occupations.

This includes an array of jobs totalling 1.5?million at the companies, covering most graduates and people with technical qualifications.

Here Africans hold up 59% of jobs and got 64.5% of appointments.

The racial make-up of the “semiskilled” and “unskilled” levels were practically unchanged, with Africans slightly over-represented and whites almost entirely absent.

One year’s appointments do not necessarily reflect what has or will happen, but it gives a snapshot of how transformational the appointments in one year was.

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