Letter: Equity legislation - The Witness

6 November 2020 - The belief that the Covid19 pandemic and the economic ravages of the lockdown would enable policy change and deliver long-elusive reform is increasingly showing itself to be illusory.

The belief that the Covid19 pandemic and the economic ravages of the lockdown would enable policy change and deliver long-elusive reform is increasingly showing itself to be illusory.

A prime measure of this is South Africa's labour legislation. As the ability to absorb job seekers has fallen, and the ranks of the jobless has expanded, this has been a longstanding issue.

For reasons of ideology and politics, the ANC has been unwilling to touch this.

Enter the Employment Equity Amendment Bill, which has attracted much attention lately. It empowers the minister of Employment and Labour to impose "numerical targets" on particular sectors. When he announced the in tention to tighten the Employment Equity legislation last year, Minister Thulas Nxesi said: "We are going to be very hard on employers?' Indeed, to the extent of seeing enterprises destroyed. An extraordinary position to take.

This legislation is designed to ensure that taking on employees is subject to a heightened level of scrutiny. This will be measured against ministerial determinations. Firms whose plans do not conform to the quotas will be held to account.

The government intends to intrude into key operational decisions, something that it is manifestly ill-placed to do. This legislation is to be overseen by political authorities that have shown little enough sympathy with business,  and is to be managed by officials who typically have scant private sector experience.

All of which inevitably means caution about hiring, and, if implemented according to the minister's pronouncements, damaging penalties for failure to comply. This is one factor among many that will challenge South Africa's recovery, but it is one that will strike at the heart of job creation.

In other words, little has been learned from past policy failures, nor has the current crisis sparked any sense of urgency to adapt. We should expect no change in the outcomes.

Terence Corrigan, Project manager, Institute of Race Relations  

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