Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma
's assurances that changes to the Employment Equity Act will not cause massive jobs losses for coloured and Indian workers are "hardly convincing", the SA Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR) said on Tuesday.
The institute's head of special research, Anthea Jeffrey, said that Zuma "in an attempt at damage control" had sought to assure coloured people in the Western Cape and Indians in KwaZulu-Natal that the Employment Equity Amendment Bill (EEA) "does not mean what it says".
"Mr Zuma’s statement that the government would not enact or implement any legislation in conflict with the constitution or the non-racial ethos and foundation of South Africa is welcome ... but it is also hardly convincing," Jeffrey said.
"The government’s claim that the bill brings about no change in the law is disingenuous. It is also foolish to accept its ‘assurance’ that this is so, as the Congress of SA Trade Unions has done, for the courts cannot take such statements into account in interpreting the wording of a statute."
Jeffrey said the bill, drafted under former labour department director general and now government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi
, removed a provision in the Employment Equity Act of 1998 requiring designated employers to align their workforces with the "demographic profile of the national and regional economically active population".
Manyi has been under fire since a video clip was broadcast on the YouTube website, in which he said there was an "oversupply" of coloureds in the Western Cape.
Jeffrey said the amended provision in the act required "alignment with the demographic profile of the economically active population".
"Under ordinary principles of statutory interpretation, all national legislation applies to the nation as a whole - and regional demographic profiles thus cannot be used unless this is expressly authorised (as it is at present).
"Mr Zuma says the removal of the word ‘national’ shows that no real change is intended, but this is unconvincing.
"Once the words ‘and regional’ are taken out, leaving the word ‘national’ in the clause is tautologous, for the demographic profile then in issue is clearly the national one in any event."
In a statement issued by the presidency on Monday, Zuma assured members of the Indian and coloured communities that government would not enact or implement any legislation in conflict with the constitution and the non-racial ethos and foundations of South Africa.
The presidency said Zuma had met with Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant
on Monday to discuss proposed changes to the law, "in particular the concerns raised by members of the coloured community".
Oliphant assured Zuma the legislation was intended to improve the employment prospects of the designated groups and not to make it difficult for them to obtain employment or to advance in their careers.
"These changes do not in any way affect negatively the employment opportunities for the coloured and/or Indian population," Zuma said.
"In fact, it makes it easier for employers to comply with the law and create more job opportunities for all the designated groups."
The demographic profile of the economically active population in the Western Cape as published by Statistics SA in the Labour Force Survey of September 2009 - referring to people from 15 to 64 years old that were employed, and those that were unemployed but seeking work - reflected that coloured citizens at 14.3% were grossly under-represented at the top management level.
Trade union Solidarity has claimed that research it conducted found that a million coloureds in the Western Cape and 500 000 Indians in KwaZulu-Natal could lose their jobs if the bill was signed into law.