A legal analysis of the complexity of race and gender disadvantage in terms of the Employement Equity Act in South Africa

Mushariwa, Muriel Tapiwa
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Centuries of colonialism and Apartheid created a legacy of inequality in South Africa that the democratic Constitution, 1996, seeks to address. The constitutional mandate in section 9 of this Constitution, enacted through the Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998 (EEA), requires designated employers in the public and private sphere to address the inequality in the workplace through the application of affirmative action. The EEA identifies the beneficiaries of affirmative action policies as black people, women and persons with disabilities. It is clear that these constitute three distinct groups, but that it is also possible for an individual to belong to more than one of these collectives. For example, black women fall within two designated groups on the basis of race and gender, and this dual disadvantage creates a multi-layered, unique and complex type of inequality. The main aim of the EEA is to create a representative workforce, and designated employers have a duty to break down the barriers that prevent members of the designated groups from entering the workplace. Once employed, employers need to assist members of the designated groups to progress in the workplace. However, having a representative workforce does not translate into a transformed workforce. It will be argued in this thesis that a transformed workplace is representative, but also requires the breakdown of institutional norms, processes and structures that prevent the progression of members of the designated groups. The question to be asked is whether affirmative action, in its current form, is able to transform the workplace. To answer this question, it is vital that consideration be given, firstly, to the type of substantive equality that is to be achieved in the application of affirmative action. It will be shown that the aim should be a transformative substantive equality of outcome. Focus will be placed on the fact that individuals who fall within the designated groups are not equally placed in terms of their experience of disadvantage. It is submitted that consideration of differing experiences of disadvantage needs to be taken into account so as to avoid the creation of an elite middle class black, and possibly male, group, which benefits from affirmative action to the exclusion of others, thus hampering the achievement of equality in the workplace. This thesis will show that a transformative form of substantive equality of outcome needs to be applied to affirmative action in the workplace. This transformative form of substantive equality includes a situation sensitive approach to the implementation of affirmative action in the workplace. A situation sensitive approach will apply affirmative action strictly on a case by case basis with regard to the demographic profile of the specific workforce, and the employment equity policy of the particular workplace. A one size fits all approach cannot deal with the complexity of disadvantage that needs to be addressed. It will be argued that, besides a situation sensitive approach to race, gender and disability, the issues of social, political, economic and educational disadvantage are factors that should be given consideration in identifying the true beneficiaries of affirmative action. To further illustrate this point, particular attention will be given to women within the designated groups, in order to unpack the nature of disadvantage they experienced in the workplace. Two case studies, focusing on women in male dominated professions, the legal profession and the mining industry, will be used to illustrate this point. This thesis will show that ultimately, the goal of affirmative action must be seen to be to change the workplace by breaking down both the visible and invisible barriers of equality and, in doing so, create an environment where, constitutional values of equality, human dignity and freedom are truly recognized and protected.
A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, School of Law, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2018
Legal Analysis, Complexity of Race and Gender Disadvantage, Employment Equity Act, South Africa, UCTD
Mushariwa, Muriel Tapiwa (2018) A legal analysis of the complexity of race and gender disadvantage in terms of the Employment Equity Act in South Africa, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, <http://hdl.handle.net/10539/34831>