Employment equity: what the law says

2012-10-12 00:00

THE recent uproar over Woolworths’ employment equity (EE) policies has brought to the fore several misconceptions about EE.

Contrary to what many (white) job candidates may think, employment equity is not designed to serve as racism in reverse. Those who feel the Employment Equity Act guarantees them top posts they are not qualified for, are wrong too. The act is intended to level the playing field, and the law is clear on how it should be applied.

The act is neither a punitive measure nor is it sanctioned racism.

The act is intended to afford historically disadvantaged South Africans the opportunity to compete meaningfully against their white, historically advantaged brothers and sisters.

Unfortunately, some employers are misguided in their application of equity in the workplace.

Consider the scenario where a company requires the services of a marketing manager and is battling to meet its equity targets.

The proverbial Johan Buys has ten years’ relevant experience and applies for the job. The proverbial Floyd Dlamini has five years’ experience and does not have a masters degree in marketing like Johan. You’ve guessed it ... Floyd is given the job.

Johan would have been given the job, had there not been a need to redress the wrongs of the past. His appointment should not be race-based only, but rather one needed to give Floyd an opportunity to compete for a post against the likes of Johan, who, if Verwoerd did not have his way, would not have been as qualified and therefore not have had the edge over Floyd.

Floyd is appointed not only because he is disadvantaged, but also because despite his “inferior” qualifications, he is, properly assessed, capable of meeting the job expectations or would be able to do so with a reasonable level of training by the employer.

Where EE is discriminatory

Scenario two is what gets Solidarity’s knickers in a knot. The same Johan is again denied the job because Sipho was appointed. Sipho has no formal marketing qualification and was a call centre agent where he “marketed” mobile packages for the past three years.

Sipho is appointed only because he is black. There is very little prospect that he would meet the job expectations, and even with training, he would likely not reach the professional standards on offer by Johan.

What the conduct of the scenario two employer means is that white applicants are permanently barred from the advertised job.

A realistic view

We often impose anecdotal evidence to feed our own morbid desire for gloom.

The equity statistics still show that whites, and more so, white males, still share the lion’s share of management posts. So, employment equity is a useful (and not optional) tool to level the workplace playing fields. It is not, however, meant to permanently deprive white job-seekers of employment for which they are qualified.

Brandell Turner is the managing director at Turner & Associates. He is an admitted attorney and public service consultant.

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