Employment Equity ensures that suitably qualified individuals from designated groups (previously disadvantaged and those discriminated against in the past) have equal opportunities and are equally represented in all business levels and categories across different workplaces.

Designated employers in South Africa are required to implement an Employment Equity Plan. This plan aims to enable the employer to promote equity in the workplace, eliminate unfair discrimination in employment policies, procedures and practices, and progress towards achieving equitable representation of employees from designated groups, creating a workplace free of any form of unfair discrimination and harassment.

Section 20 of the Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998 (EEA) outlines what the contents of an Employment Equity Plan should be and, except where otherwise provided, it applies only to designated employers and their employees, mainly employees from designated groups. Designated employers include:

  • Employers who employ more than fifty employees.
  • An employer bound by a Collective Agreement appointed as a designated employer in terms of the EEA.
  • Municipalities.
  • Organs of State.

The development of the Employment Equity plan is the responsibility of a designated employer. The plan must set out the steps the employer will follow to achieve an equal and fair workplace where all employees can thrive. There are multiple sources of information available to an employer, including the EEA, the Code of Good Practice on the Implementation of Employment Equity Plans as well as a user guide that has been published by the Department of Labour, which details steps that an employer must follow in implementing an Employment Equity Plan.

The EEA allows employers to customise plans to suit their individual needs. Although there is no required format of an Employment Equity Plan, every designated employer must achieve employment equity and implement affirmative action measures for people from designated groups, according to the EEA. One of the most important steps an employer can take is to consult with employees on their Employment Equity Plan; this allows the employer to receive valuable input from staff by reflecting on the interests of all staff from all occupational categories and levels of the workforce, workers from designated groups, and those not from designated groups.

An Employment Equity Plan and consultations with employees allow employers to identify Employment Equity barriers or obstacles and appropriate affirmative action measures that can be taken. For example, in the User Guide for Employment Equity, the Department of Labour stresses the importance of giving people with disabilities an equal opportunity or retaining employees who have become disabled during their employment. A barrier in a workplace could be that there are no opportunities for individuals with disabilities; an appropriate measure that the employer can take would be to consult with people with disabilities on their career advancement and needs so that facilities and materials for training can be made accessible to them.

Equity in the workplace should mean that everyone receives respectful and dignified treatment. When equity exists, all staff have equal access to opportunities; these opportunities motivate employees to achieve, and employees who believe they can achieve more will put more effort into their work. Equity also encourages employee retention, and an inclusive environment creates a happier workforce.

By Shannen Brown

Dispute Resolution Official at Consolidated Employers Organisation (CEO SA)