Shades of black

Eskom did not commit an unfair labour practice in hiring a black engineer over a coloured engineer, according to a recent arbitration court ruling.  According to Business Day:

IN A decision that could have wide-ranging implications for employment equity in SA, an arbitration court has ruled that Africans should take precedence over other previously disadvantaged groups in securing jobs.

The Arbitration Court, sitting in Bellville on Wednesday, ruled that state power utility Eskom had acted correctly in appointing an African engineer in place of a more qualified coloured engineer, Leon Christiaans. This was because the other candidate had been more disadvantaged than Christiaans by past discriminatory laws and practices.

Christiaans had applied for the promotion and, after it was given to a black colleague, trade union Solidarity took up his case.

Solidarity claimed that Eskom had committed an unfair labour practice and had discriminated unfairly.

Piet van Staden, who presided over the matter, disagreed, saying Eskom did not discriminate against Christiaans in not appointing him, nor did it commit an unfair labour practice.

If the precedent of last week’s arbitration ruling is followed in the implementation of affirmative action by companies in the private sector, African candidates could be deemed more deserving of affirmative action posts than coloureds, Indians, white females and even the disabled.

This ruling does not accord with the legislation and creates artificial distinctions between racial groups the Employment Equity Act itself does not recognise.  If employers rely on this decision it will add to the practice of not recognising white women as deserving of preferential treatment in terms of the Act and a further fragmented job market.

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