Presented by: Gretchen Humphries
FEDUSA Assistant General Secretary: Parliament
22 July 1998

FEDUSA recognises that the legacy of apartheid has left a variety of social and economic inequalities within the country. The Constitution of South Africa addresses these inequalities via legislative and other measures, which are designed to advance those persons who were previously disadvantaged. The Employment Equity Bill would qualify as one of these measures and as such is supported by FEDUSA.

FEDUSA supports the following principles in regard to employment equity:
employment equity must be rooted in justice and equality
it should have a beginning and an end
it should aim to give skills to those previously disadvantaged
it should not be based on a quota system
it should not lead to job loss of those formally advantaged
it should not lead to standards being compromised
there must be full stake holder involvement throughout the employment equity process

FEDUSA supports the aims of the Employment Equity bill, namely the elimination of unfair discrimination, the removal of all employment barriers and the implementation of equitable representation in the workplace.

However, FEDUSA would unequivocally state that in attempting to achieve these aims it remains essential that the necessary checks and safeguards are in place to prevent reverse discrimination and nepotism from taking root in the workplace, in the guise of employment equity.

The Bill proposes a great deal of flexibility and encourages employers in consultation with its workplace to find their own solutions to employment equity. Affirmative action is seen as central to the democratization of the workplace to ensure that employment equity is truly equitable.

Firstly, there should be no negative impact on job creation secondly, there should be no discrimination between different disadvantaged groups on the grounds of color; and thirdly, employment equity should not adversely affect flexibility in the labour market.

Unemployment is increasing in South Africa to the extent that on any given day 197 jobs are lost in the formal sector while at the same time 1000 new job - seekers are entering the market. South Africa is characterized by contrasts - First World opulence rubbing shoulders with Third World poverty; breathtakingly beautiful landscape blotted with the squalor of overcrowded, unserviced squatter camps; peace and tranquility and immense wealth in natural resources contrasting with agonizing impoverishment in terms of the development and utilization of the potential of people. We will still have the haves and have - nots, and all this is characteristic of a society in the throes of tumultuous change. This can be resolved, inter alia, through the process and practice of affirmative action.

In South Africa we need to redefine and improve the quality of non-racialism, and redefine how it can hold us together as citizens of this country.

The South African society, because or its history, is deeply rooted with inequalities and imbalances. We are left with a legacy of society where an individual's status and prospects in life were determined by his or her gender, colour, language, cultural affiliation or by his or her political allegiance. What South Africans need is the promotion of equity through equality of opportunity, support reasonable measures that are aimed at creating equality of opportunity. FEDUSA believes the emphasis should indeed fall on training and capacity building, so that individuals will soon be able to compete on an equal basis.

What FEDUSA does not and never will support is the rejection of merit in its broader sense, which encompasses potential, as the primary criteria for selection, promotion or advancement of individuals. To do so results in tokenism and is in conflict with our belief in the primacy of the individual. Affirmative action should be about the promotion of deserving individuals who come from previously disadvantaged groups in an effort to overcome the legacies of that group's past which prevented the individual from competing on an equal basis.

The affirmative action that FEDUSA support fully is that which aims to improve standards of excellence by identifying and using the creativity and skills potential of all of those sectors of our society which have been overlooked because of their race, gender, disability or other factors, which should be and must eventually become irrelevant in the new South Africa which we have all embraced.

Affirmative action is a tool. It is a mechanism for creating a better society. It is a means to assist us to build an economy with skilled workers, competent managers and income earners that can provide for their families. It should not result in job losses or reduced flexibility. It must have the opposite effect! It will mean more jobs and more flexibility because people will have skills and the ability to move freely in the labour market.

FEDUSA welcomes the Bill's underlying philosophy which sought to advance the need a comprehensive approach to the redressing of the legacy of discrimination and inequality in the labour market. in order to achieve the goal of employment equity instead of adopting a narrow state-driven strategy, relying exclusively on the imposition of affirmative action quotas. This would have had serious drawbacks. Such an approach would result in the promotion of a few individuals and would not advance empowerment.

In the adoption of a new political dispensation that is just and democratic and strives for equality in all spheres of life, the promotion of a culture of non-sexism and non-racialism there is a realization of the kind of society which the new Constitution and the Bill of Rights envisage. FEDUSA therefore support a programme which seeks to balance the scale of injustices of the past in a fair. equitable and sustainable manner.

Affirmative action will ensure that the marginalised and disadvantaged are brought to the same level and, by so doing, create greater equality of opportunity for all South African citizens. It is about the economic. educational, social and political empowerment of the disadvantaged, and is a conscious effort to achieve the goals of the democratic Constitution.

Affirmative action is as much about the provision of proper education, sporting opportunities, health facilities and running water, as it is about taking steps to search for and encourage persons with necessary abilities in all communities, to develop their skills and to promote their advancement. It does not mean the lowering of standards.

The Bill's regulatory framework as set out in Chapter V, Part A supports the Employment Equity Bill's objectives, that designated employers not complying with the legislation could face "exceedingly punitive fines".

However, FEDUSA wants to caution that adequate provision for this should be made by securing proper financial support and trained personnel in the Department of Labour as well as the Commission for Conciliation and Mediation, otherwise enforcement will be frustrated and delayed.

A commitment to the people of this nation, especially to the future of our youth affords us an opportunity to build on the democratic strides we have made up to now and will form the basis of all future democratic endeavors.

FEDUSA does furthermore not believe it appropriate nor sound to attempt to address the mooted issue of wage differentials within the context of the Bill. Wage differentials as a central theme was not the focal point of employment equity legislation.

The Bill could not only be confined to a degree of horizontal equity while there continues to be a huge vertical inequality - between those at the bottom and those at the top. In order to be fair internal parity between employees must exist. In its simplest form, internal parity is achieved when different employees within the organisation performing the same functions receive the same salaries. In a more complex form, internal parity is achieved when the differential between the income of employees within the organisation who perform different functions is in accordance with the differential between their functions. An excessive differential in incomes, or a wide wage gap, is unfair towards the lower earners, whereas an insignificant differential would be unfair to the employees performing more skilled or onerous functions

In the report of the Presidential Commission to investigate the Development of a Comprehensive Labour Market Policy mention is made of the extreme inequality in income distribution in South Africa. However it must be kept in mind that salary ratios by themselves are only a crude and limited indicator of income distribution within a given sample / organisatlon.

The fact that the salary at the bottom may be unacceptable low does not necessarily mean that the salary at the top is unacceptably high. It may simply mean that the salary at the bottom is simply too low for a decent standard of living. These aspects should however not be addressed through legislation but through collective bargaining or other means of bargaining.

What FEDUSA further endorse is that any wage differential that exists between employees performing the same duties should be eliminated. The concept of" equal pay for equal work" should apply and be enforced vigorously. FEDUSA adopts the approach, outlined above, as its principle outlook on wage differentials.

A great number of expectations arose with the announcement of this Bill. On the one hand there are those that expect a magic wand to be waved that would result in the appointment of people from designated groups in all levels of posts almost overnight. On the other hand there are those that fear that because they are not from the designated groups their present jobs is insecure and that they face termination of their services so that affirmative action appointments can be made. They also fear that their movement in the labour market will be severely restricted.

The employer will have to manage this process and the implementation of the proposed legislation in such a way as to balance the expectations against the fears. FEDUSA therefor urges the employers to address the above comprehensively in their employment equity plans and to ensure that all employees accept ownership of the transformation process.

FEDUSA and its affiliates support the principles of employment equity as contained in the Bill now serving before the committee

In conclusion FEDUSA would like to state that employment equity is a commitment to the people of South Africa. It is a mechanism and tool, which can be used to ensure that we address the imbalances of the past in a positive and responsible way to ensure a positive and motivated workforce.