Former DG blames ‘lacklustre’ business for poor transformation pace

2013-10-09 08:38

The pace of transformation in the workplace in the past 17 years has been “very disappointing”, one of the architects of the current labour dispensation has said.

Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (Casac) chairperson Sipho Pityana – a former director-general in the department of labour – said business had been “lacklustre” in implementing affirmative action and employment equity to transform the workplace.

He was addressing the 2013 annual conference of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation in Sandton yesterday.

“To wake up 17 years on with a tale of two cities; South Africa’s public sector which seemed to be quite enthusiastic to create the vision that we envisaged, and a private sector in South Africa that is vehemently resistant to transforming and bringing about the vision that we have.

“I believe business is somewhat lacklustre in pursuing the common vision that we agreed to as a nation, of transforming South Africa,” he said.

He said transformation was a constitutional imperative, adding organisations that claim to promote the Constitution should also be vocal about the skewed transformation of the workplace.

However, Pityana said sometimes the implementation of the policy was unconstitutional and incorrect, citing the case of the Western Cape where the department of correctional services is being challenged for using national demographics instead of provincial population figures as a yardstick for change.

In such cases the proponents of transformation are playing into the hands of those who oppose it.

He said when redress legislation was crafted, the intention was not only to deal with the “moral bankruptcy” of past discrimination, but also to create an efficient labour market to deal with the underperformance of the economy.

“The trajectory of the South African labour market at the time was about cheap black labour. It was also characterised by low levels of literacy and education, low levels of skills and productivity levels that were low as a result, and low wages,” he said.

Skills development and changes in education policy were part of attempts to change that picture.

Pityana said South Africa had missed out on the opportunity to get out of a “low wage, low skill” trajectory, saying this trajectory “remains a dominant feature of South African corporate approach to labour market”.

South Africa was among a few places in the world uncomfortable with talking about race and gender discrimination in the workplace, he said.

“Discrimination in the South African workplace is quite pervasive. I partly say to myself that I wish one day that the Employment Equity Commission (EEC), the (SA) Human Rights Commission, and the Gender Commission could come together and do a systematic and in-depth survey of the extent of discrimination in South Africa’s workplace.

“Workplace discrimination is the Achilles’ heel of South Africa’s transformation. Employment equity in some cases is used as a blunt instrument of discrimination and conformity,” he said.

Earlier, EEC member Tabea Magodielo spoke about how changes in the workplace had been uneven, and went up and down over the past 12 years for Coloureds and Africans.

She said while the “designated groups” were increasingly represented in the “professionals” category, a glass ceiling prevented them from reaching “senior management” echelons.

Magodielo said the increase in black human resource practitioners had not translated into more transformation, which suggested that decision-making lay elsewhere in workplaces.

Real transformation should not rely on transformation only, she said.

“Otherwise we will end up with malicious compliance,” Magodielo said.

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