Business and Economy

Companies with untransformed workplaces may be barred from bidding for state tenders

GetBiz CEO Andile Ntingi. Photo: GetBiz

Despite the end of apartheid more than 20 years ago, politicians and social activists still liken South African workplaces to an Irish coffee.

They disparagingly point out that South African offices resemble the hot beverage in this way: a black mass dominated by a white topping with a sprinkling of chocolate.

The latest affirmative action figures from the Commission for Employment Equity (CEE) show that progress has been slow 23 years into our democracy, despite government instituting a string of policy interventions aimed at achieving meaningful racial and gender equality in workplaces.

To put it bluntly, blacks and women are grossly under-represented in the commanding heights of our economy and now the government has lost patience with the “Irish coffee” phenomenon.

The CEE, which monitors the implementation of affirmative action policy, has signalled in its 2016/17 annual report – released in May this year – that it will advise Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant to promulgate Section 53 of the Employment Equity Act (EEA). This move will restrict employers that are non-compliant with the Act from bidding for government tenders.

If the promulgation is made, non-compliers that do or intend to do business with the state will feel the financial pinch if the Department of Labour declines to grant them EEA compliance certificates to compete for state contracts. This could cause serious damage to tender-dependent businesses considering that the government spends R500 billion annually buying goods and services from suppliers.

Calls for stringent remedial measures against non-compliant workplaces are nothing new in South Africa. In 2007, Jimmy Manyi, then chairperson of the CEE, threatened to recommend that non-compliant companies be hit with stiff fines of up to 10% of their annual turnover.

However, his recommendation was never translated into action. The current chairperson of CEE, recruitment guru Tabea Kabinde, is talking tough and calling for radical economic transformation (RET) in the workplace.

RET will be enforced by discontinuing awarding government tenders to employers that resist racial and gender transformation. 

“We as a commission will therefore pursue the promulgation and implementation of Section 53 in earnest to ensure that there is radical economic transformation in the workplace. We believe that the time is right and the people of our country need to see these changes in our lifetime,” Kabinde is quoted as saying in the CEE’s latest annual report.

The CEE’s 2016/17 annual report painted yet another picture of companies that are struggling to build racial and gender-representative workplaces, where white people, particularly males, still hold the lion’s share of top and senior management positions.

According to the report, whites hold 68.5% of top management jobs, a figure that represents more than six times their economically active population (EAP), which includes people from 15 to 64 years of age who are either employed or unemployed or seeking employment.

The report also revealed that Indians occupy 8.9% of positions at top level and are over-represented by three times their EAP distribution. On the contrary, black Africans and Coloureds hold 14.4% and 5.5% respectively of top positions.

The report says black African representation is more than five times below their EAP, while the Coloured representation is half their EAP. Women hold 22% of top management jobs, a representation figure that is less than half of their EAP distribution.

The problem of untransformed workplaces is worsened by the likelihood of white males being afforded higher levels of recruitment and promotion opportunities compared to blacks and females.

Besides pushing for the promulgation of Section 53 to remedy slow pace of racial and gender transformation, the commission has indicated that it will work with industry stakeholders to enforce numerical employment equity (EE) targets for various sectors of the economy to ensure that employers fully comply with the EEA.

Trade unions and employees will also have to play their part in monitoring the compliance and implementation of prescribed industry EE targets to ensure that the “Irish Coffee” problem is resolved and that a meaningful number of blacks and females rise to top positions.


  • Andile Ntingi is the chief executive and co-founder of GetBiz, an e-procurement and tender notification service.

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