Another affirmative action shock - available skills may no longer count
In yet another radical amendment to the affirmative action legislation, the Department of Labour has suggested that the availability of skills may no longer be used in the implementation of affirmative action. According to trade union Solidarity, employers are, under current legislation, required to take into account the skills available when affirmative action are implemented. This stipulation is going to be eliminated in accordance to the new proposals. The only measure which will be used to determine targets is the demography of the economically active population (EAP).
The government hereby fails to appreciate the fact that there is a skills shortage, according to Solidarity. It also corroborates the idea which the current government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi has announced. Manyi has already stated in 2007 that the skills shortage is only an urban legend. He reiterated this statement several times. This amendment only confirms Manyi's view that there is no skills shortage.
The underlying idea of the new amendment is that representation is the only measure for affirmative action. According to Beeld on 12 May 2010, Manyi also told the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa that absolute representation is the only measure of employment equity.
"Despite this new amendment's failure to appreciate the problem, Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, emphasised in January this year that the economy is thwarted by the serious skills shortage. He further underlined the fact that South Africa has a shortage of artisans, in particular, and that approximately 10 000 artisans should be trained annually," said Dr Dirk Hermann, deputy general secretary of Solidarity.
Meanwhile, Solidarity reckons that the dissemination of skills between race groups cannot be ignored. "According to Statistics South Africa's data of the 2007 community survey, the distribution of qualifications is not a direct reflection of the distribution of the EAP.
In 2007 almost 52% of all South Africans above the age of 20 years who were in possession of a matric certificate with university exemption were Africans. In the same year, only 34% of South Africans older than 20 with an honours degree, and only 28% with a masters or doctors degree were black.
In contrast, 73,7% of South Africa's EAP are black. The application of the demographic profile of the EAP in the country can therefore not simply be used as the only measure, since people of the designated group with the applicable skills are frequently just not available. It is absurd to think that an employer may be penalised if he does not comply with employment equity targets in spite of a serious skills shortage," Hermann said.
The implementation of this legislation would lead to, among other things, positions being left vacant if suitable candidates from the designated group are not available. In the private sector this will hamper the growth of firms as well as economic growth in general. In the public service deteriorating service delivery will continue. This is despite President Jacob Zuma stating in his State of the Nation address that public service positions may not be left vacant.
The answer to the skills shortage in South Africa does not lie in ignoring it, but to confront it. True affirmative action will consist of launching large-scale skills development programmes. The new amendment to the legislation focuses on outcomes, namely racial targets. The correct approach will be change that stimulates input, namely training and development.
Solidarity has reiterated its plea that the amendment should be recalled.
Statement issued by Dirk Hermann, Deputy general secretary: Solidarity, March 6 2011
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