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By Cornelia Le Roux

Digital Deputy News Editor

BEE backlash: New race targets ‘incoherent and incomprehensible’

Opposition is mounting against new EEA targets with Sakeliga demanding the immediate withdrawal of draft regulations out for public comment. Here's why.

Business interest group Sakeliga has served a letter of demand on Minister of Employment and Labour  Thulas Nxesi, requesting the immediate withdrawal of the draft Employment Equity Amendment Act (EEA) regulations published for comment on Friday, 12 May.

The gazetted draft regulations stipulate race and gender targets, determined by the minister, in various economic sectors per industry per province.

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Draft EEA regulations: New race, gender targets

The proposed targets would apply to companies employing more than 50 people to be more demographically representative, especially in management positions.

The tables of the gazetted notice show percentages split across:

  • 18 industries/ sectors
  • Four skill levels per industry (Top management; Senior management; Professional; Skilled)
  • Four racial groups per skill level (plus a total for “Black”, which includes Indian, Coloured and African)
  • Two genders (Male and Female)
  • 10 regional breakdowns for all of the above (nine provinces and national).

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‘Incoherent and incomprehensible’: Sakeliga demands withdrawal of draft regulations

The department did not publish an explanatory note on how the targets are to be read and various commentators, such as Sakeliga, have already pointed out that the numbers don’t add up.

According to Sakeliga, the targets are “incoherent and incomprehensible”.

The draft regulations… seek to determine race and gender quotas per industry per province. However, the regulations have been so incoherently and incomprehensibly constructed that it is impossible to formulate meaningful comments on the proposed targets.

‘No explanation or sense in numbers’: Judicial review of targets

“Furthermore, no explanation was provided to assist in making sense of the numbers,” the group said in a statement.

In Sakeliga’s letter of demand to the minister, the business interest group intimated that if the regulations are promulgated, they will be susceptible to judicial review.

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Sakeliga’s comments were echoed by legal experts Imraan Mahomed, director of Employment Law practice, and Johannes Jacobus van der Walt, senior associate at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr (CDH), who highlighted some “meaningless” targets.

“A target of 0% can neither ‘target’ nor be designed to protect or advance anyone in our view. It is meaningless,” they were quoted as saying in a BusinessTech report.

The notice, on occasion, determines a numerical target of 0%. In the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector in Limpopo for instance, the numerical target for both coloured males and females is 0%.

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DA: More voices weigh in with examples of ‘absurdity’

On Monday, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen called the EEA the “most dangerous piece of racial engineering our country has seen since the dawn of democracy”.

steenhuisen DA BEE targets
Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen has encouraged the public to comment on the gazetted draft regulations of new race and gender targets set out in the Employment Equity Amendment Act. Image: Neil McCartney

He provided some examples of the “absurdity” of the targets, referring to the gazetted tables.

In Gauteng, according to Steenhuisen, employment by people classified as coloured is limited to below 1% in some areas in the draft regulations. In the case of employees classified by the state as Indian, the targets are often as low as 0.1% across economic sectors.

Consider the absurdity. A company with 50 employees that has even a single Indian person on the payroll will be in breach of the 0.1% limit, as one out of 50 is equal to 2% of that company’s total employees.

-DA leader

“Conversely, if that company fires its single Indian employee on the basis of race, it will also be in breach because it will then have 0% Indian employees.”

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DA, Solidarity to challenge new EEA race targets in court

According to Steenhuisen, the DA will challenge the act in the Constitutional Court and encouraged people to raise their objections to the targets with the department.

Trade union Solidarity also announced last week that it has served a court summons on President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Department of Employment and Labour, as well as Nxesi, disputing the constitutionality of the country’s new BEE and transformation laws.

Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi on youth unemployment
Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi. Image: Gallo Images / Business Day / Puxley Makgatho)

Its court bid follows the president signing the Employment Equity Amendment Bill of 2020 into law on 12 April.

In its court papers, Solidarity states that the latest amendments to the Employment Equity Act do not adhere to international labour conventions. It further argues that by signing off on the amended laws, the government is guilty of being in contempt of such conventions, as well as South Africa’s Constitution.

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