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President Ramaphosa signed the Employment Equity Amendment Bill into law on 12 April. The Amendment Bill was tabled in 2020 before being passed by Parliament in May 2022, and this brings about a few changes to the Employment Equity Act (55 of 1998). PDBY explores this.

How are bills signed into law?

A bill is a draft version of a law. Bills are usually drafted by a governmental department under the direction and supervision of the respective minister. After it is drafted, the bill is tabled in Parliament and considered by the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces. Following this, the bill is published in the Government Gazette so that the public can comment, before it is debated in the relevant parliamentary committees to determine if an amendment is necessary. The bill is then passed by Parliament and ratified by the president.

The Employment Equity Act

The Employment Equity Act was introduced in 1998 to redress the injustices of the past and to ensure that everyone enjoys equal rights and opportunities in the workplace. The Act aims to implement affirmative action within the workplace. Affirmative action is focused on demographics with historically low levels of representation in the workplace, especially in senior positions. Furthermore, affirmative action involves measures to ensure that people from designated groups (people of colour, women, and disabled persons) are represented in the workplace. 

The Employment Equity Amendment Bill

The Bill aims to change a few definitions within the Employment Equity Act (hereafter, the Act) and to grant the minister of labour the power to set and identify sectoral targets to ensure equal representation of people from designated groups within the workplace. Among the changes to the Act is the definition of designated employers. Before the amendment of the Act, a designated employer was defined as an employer who “employs 50 or more employees”, or “an employer who employs fewer [than] 50 employees, but has a total annual turnover that is equal to or above the applicable annual turnover of a small business” as determined by the Act. All designated employers were obliged to comply with the Act. 

With the acceptance of the Amendment Bill, the term “designated employer” no longer includes an employer who employs less than 50 employees, regardless of their annual turnover. As a result, designated employers are positively affected by this change, as they have now been exempted from complying with the Act and are thus not required to submit Employment Equity reports. 

The implications

Since designated employers are not obliged to comply with the Act, it raises the question of whether designated groups will be represented in workplaces where an employer is considered as a designated employer. With the high unemployment rate in South Africa, especially considering that a significant percentage of the unemployment rate is people of colour,  it is unclear whether the amendment of this Act will decrease the high unemployment rate or increase it. 

PDBY approached Nomvelo Nhleko, a final-year LLB student, for her opinion on the matter. Nhleko said, “This change can put employees of designated employers in a vulnerable position because the employers will now have the discretion to either implement employment equity or any affirmative action measures in the workplace, or choose not to since they are not obliged by the law to do so.” Nhleko continued, “Chances of employees being treated unfairly and exploited in the designated employer’s workplace will be high.”