The ‘anti-coloured’ formula

2014-04-13 15:00

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant this week lashed out at critics of her new proposed formula for employment equity targets.

Those who say the formula would disadvantage coloureds and Indians are “telling blue lies”, she said at Wednesday’s indaba on Employment Equity and Transformation in Sandton.

The Employment Equity Act has always allowed employers to set targets that also consider “regional” demographics, but the law never said how.

The labour department has now proposed a formula that places the overwhelming emphasis on national demographics.

By far the largest effect would be felt in Western Cape and Northern Cape because of those provinces’ large coloured populations.

Union Solidarity and the DA have attacked it, saying it would force coloured people to migrate if they want jobs.

In large firms with 150 employees, targets for “top” and “senior” management as well as “professional” jobs would have to use only the national demographics, according to the proposed formula.

The “skilled” level target would be an average between national and provincial demographics, diluting the role of regional demographics.

At smaller employers, the only difference would be that the average target can also be used for professional jobs.

The effect in Western Cape and Northern Cape is that coloured people become “overrepresented” in all occupational categories despite being 52% and 35% of the provinces’ respective economically active populations.

Currently, employers are free to use these provincial demographics for employment equity targets.

Cosatu wants it to stay that way and has objected to the new proposal – asking that pure provincial demographics be permitted.

But Tony Ehrenreich, Cosatu’s Western Cape provincial secretary insists there is very little practical effect either way.

“What is going to happen in Western Cape is that employers will have to employ black Africans anyway. They are the most underrepresented.”

This is borne out by the latest Commission for Employment Equity report, which shows even though there are less Africans than coloureds in Western Cape, their employment in top occupations falls far more severely short of their share in the population.

Even if pure provincial demographics were used, the imperative would still be to focus on African employment rather than coloured employment.

Ehrenreich says the real problem with the “hypothetical” formula would be political. It would drive a wedge between Africans and coloureds in Western Cape and only have an “academic” value in practical terms.

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