Workplace Discrimination: public hearings

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Employment and Labour

04 September 2007
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

4 September 2007

Chairperson: Ms O Kasienyane (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Sociology of Work Unit, University of Witwaterstrand: submission on Workplace Discrimination
Sociology of Work Unit presentation on Employment Equity: Complexity in Practice
Code of Good Conduct to Prevent & Deal with Workplace Violence by Workplace Dignity Institute
Black Management Forum submission on Workplace Discrimination

Audio recording of meeting [Part 1] & [Part 2]


The submissions centred on workplace violence and employment equity. It was established that workplace violence was more evident in the public sector, particularly in the health sector, than in the private sector. The reason given was that the private sector was more discriminating about their clientele. They also had better security and policies in place than in the public sector. If policies were enforced and implemented, there would be a reduction in instances of workplace violence. Women were at a higher risk of being victims of workplace because they were considered to be more vulnerable. Women were also usually the ones who inflicted emotional violence on other women.  The Code of Good Conduct to Prevent and Deal with Workplace Violence dealt with instances of workplace violence. It simplified issues and included all types of workplace violence.

The Employment Equity presentation emphasised the complexity of employment equity. The point was made that employment equity should not focus only on senior positions but should be throughout the employment sector. Laws at the moment regarding employment equity were voluntary and that was one of the reasons why transformation was slow.


The Chairperson welcomed the presenters and hoped that it would be an informative meeting.

Mr T Mkalipi (Senior Executive Manager: Department of Labour) commented that the Department would make a presentation the next day. He thought the process was important and would assist in the implementation of the Employment Equity Act, as not much movement had been made. It was long overdue and they should have involved the stakeholders earlier.

A Code of Good Conduct to Prevent & Deal with Workplace Violence by Workplace Dignity Institute by Dr Susan Steinman

Dr Susan Steinman explained that the Workplace Dignity Institute was founded in 2005 although they had been active since 1994. The definition of Workplace Violence (WPV) used worldwide was
defined as single or cumulative incidents where employee(s) are physically assaulted or attacked, are emotionally abused, pressurised, harassed or threatened (overtly, covertly, directly, indirectly) in work-related circumstances with the likelihood of impacting on their right to dignity, physical or emotional safety, well-being, work performance or social development. One of the consequences of this violence was post-traumatic stress.

There were several reasons why a code should be implemented. Workplace violence affected the dignity of employees and all professions were at risk. Research showed that females were at a much higher risk of abuse at the workplace. In the public sector there was more risk, than the private sector. This impacted on service delivery, especially in the health care sector. Legislation dealing with this was already in place in Canada, France, Germany, and 13 states in the United States of America, European Union, Sweden and Norway. 

The impact on victims of workplace violence was easily recognisable. Emotional abuse, however, was difficult to prove, as most of the scars were psychological. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome was a typical response.  However, when employers had policies in place, the frequency of violence was reduced. 

The code to deal with and prevent WPV would fill in the gaps and broaden the existing code. The code included both formal and informal procedures. The code could be more effective than legislation. It also included monitoring and evaluation. It was not punitive action, but rather a way for employees to be more productive. The Code could be managed in the workplace through management by employment wellness sections.

Employment Equity: Complexity in Practice presentation by University of Witwaterstrand: Sociology of Work Unit by Kezia Lewins

Ms Kezia Lewins presentation looked at the complexity of the labour market that was both segmented and stratified. Equity needed to extend throughout the labour market. There was also competing equity between race-based and gender-based equity.  There was also a debate around general versus specific policy. To transform the ‘Apartheid’ workplace regime one had to racialise division of labour, structure of power, segregation of facilities, migrant labour and the bifurcated industrial geography. There was still a racialised and hierarchical system.

The presenter presented charts and graphs that dealt with race and gender demographics according to work sectors, occupational level (unskilled, semi-skilled, senior management positions, top management and professionally qualified persons). She presented a case study done on transformation in higher education which noted that few universities had managed to transform both racial and gender categories.

She concluded that progress had been made in the race and gender composition of the labour market. However, one needed to consider whether a stratified and sector-specific approach might produce better results than a general strategy.

Secondly, one needed to consider the impact that multiple forms of equity had on each other. She asked the questions: Did race and gender-equity facilitate each other or did they compete for prominence? Was employment equity focused on middle to top-end jobs or was it about a wider social transformation that inluded class-based transformation.

Other questions that were posed: What could be done to improve the ability of the educational system to produce suitably skilled workers for the labour market? Was enough being done to transform the authoritarian, racist and sexist cultures that still pervaded many workplaces?


The Chairperson informed the presenters that, as the meeting was pressed for time, any questions that could not be answered due to time constraints could be sent it later in written format.

Ms A Dreyer (DA) referred to the slide showing the demographics for women employed in each sector and noted the percentage of women was 3.8% in the Mining and Quarrying sector. She asked why the number was so low, if there was a reason for it and how and why it should change.

Ms Lewins replied that even though the number of women was extremely low, most of the increase that had happened occurred post apartheid. They wanted more equity than they had. There was no reason why it should be an occupation only for men. They needed to think rigorously about the particular demands on that sector as well as whether the mines have the resources.

Mr M Mzondeki (ANC) had a concern about the Code for workplace violence. He noted that it could be a tool used to deal with violence in the workplace although it did seem more geared towards wellness and health. He wanted to know how they could broaden the Code. Emotional violence was a difficult issue in workplace violence and it was difficult to prove. He wanted to know if in their research, they had looked at the underlying causes of workplace violence. He asked if the employers were the only ones who were guilty of workplace violence or if the employees were also involved.

Ms Steinman noted that Karl Marx had said that capitalism would be the cause of workplace violence. More and more people have said that it is the discourse of the restructured workplace. This was because people cling to their jobs, they were insecure about their jobs and were constantly aware that there were so few jobs and so many people. It is a very competitive society and workplace violence was one of the results of a competitive society. There are other causes such as non-compliance with Occupational Health and Safety Act. This could lead to stress that can cause workplace violence. Lack of policies in places, organisational factors, environmental factors - all these are reasons as are individual factors, personal conduct and well-being. People who are victims of workplace violence sometimes turn into the perpetrators of violence. Unnecessary overloading of staff is unhealthy and it also makes workplace violence a reality. Workplace violence was opportunistic because of lack of policies. It was interesting to note that 83% of workplace violence was top down whereas only 17% was bottom up.

Mr Mzondeki felt that in Ms Lewins’ presentation, more could be said about the fact that transformation was so slow. Even though she had given the factors and that there should be change, he said that perhaps something was missing from the presentation.

Ms S Rajbally (MF) commented that there were many factors attached to WPV, especially job security. It could also be out of fear that should they reveal the truth about the abuse, something would happen to their job position.

Ms Steinman replied that most people would not report WPV out of fear of losing their job, being retaliated against and intimidated. The code simplifies matters and would deal with that issue. If the matter went to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) it could be very traumatic, because it was so difficult to prove. The code broadens the definition to make it simpler.

Ms Rajbally asked how often did the department monitor the conditions of employment and the implementation of the relevant Acts. Did employees even know about their rights?

Ms Steinman replied that there was awareness but that there should be greater awareness. If a code should be introduced, there had to be provisions for training. She was concerned that so much focus was on service delivery that the employees themselves were ignored.

Ms Rajbally wanted to know if Ms Lewins believed that affirmative action was applied in the correct way.

[As there were time constraints, this question went unanswered. The Committee requested a written response for those questions.]

Mr B Mkongi (ANC) was interested in the Employment Equity: Complexity in Practice presentation. During the Apartheid regime, the government had managed to skill “their people” in order to improve the market. He wanted to know about the linkages between the then government’s programme and that of Employment Equity. He wanted to know what government could do to employ some of the strategies that were successfully applied then.

Mr Mkongi asked what they were trying to do to relate the rate of transformation in higher education to the rate of transformation in society at large. Back during the apartheid regime, they had strong organisations that forced transformation. Today there seemed to be only a step-by-step process.

Mr O Mogale (ANC) asked whether the intervention of the Sector Education and Training Authorities in terms of linking education with skills, addressed the problems that higher education was having in transforming.

Ms Lewins replied that they do address some of the problems. Students who study engineering and medicine probably received bursaries but there was little chance of them moving to the academic sphere. She also added that it was more difficult to get students motivated today than it was before.

Mr Mkongi wanted to know how they would balance all the factors. They would also require the assistance of academics, as this was a process of nation building. There were issues with the relationship with race and gender, which also had to be balanced in order for transformation to succeed.

[As there were time constraints, this question went unanswered. The Committee requested a written response.]

Mr Mkongi found the definition of WPV was too narrow because it focussed on the employees, whereas you would find that workers have their own organisations that are strong. He also asked what was the influence of community violence on the workplace violence.

Ms Steinman commented that it was a valid question. It was related more to structural violence and that one should differentiate between interpersonal violence in the workplace, with its definition being applicable only to interpersonal violence, and systemic or structural violence, where it could refer to a union or a student body that could be abusive to the employer. It was a burning issue: employers could be victims of workplace violence and that it could take the form of structural violence for instance vandalising a building. 

Mr E Mtshali (ANC) remarked that class was more of an issue that should be seriously considered with regard to the transformation process. He wanted clarification on the introduction of the element of class in equity.

Ms Lewins agreed. Class had to be brought into the issue, if they were to just prioritise race and gender they would be missing class roots. There needed to be a re-centreing of class in transformation, one needed to look at the broader levels of transformation.

Ms H Weber (DA) referred to the graph on the Composition of Professionally Qualified People and it showed that the number of African men, African women and white men had decreased. However the numbers for white women had risen. She wanted to know if there was any reason for this and if there was any research being done on this issue or if it could be attributed to the brain drain.

Ms Lewins replied that a lot had to do with history. If one looked at the labour market historically, white women have been in the category of professionally qualified or clerks. They found it quite difficult to break into top management.

Mr O Mogale (ANC) asked if the current laws addressed the issue of workplace discrimination.

Ms Lewins thought the laws were more voluntary than they should be. People have a “voluntaristic” view when it came to employment equity and more needed to be done.
Mr Mogale wanted to know why women were at high risk and was this global?

Ms Steinman replied that it was part of the general problem with women being more vulnerable in the workplace, especially if the perpetrator was male. An interesting phenomenon was that in terms of emotional violence, women were even at higher risk as women were inclined to abuse each other. Women still have the perception that they were inadequate.

Mr Mogale noted that there was 27.1% racial harassment in the public sector and 17.4% in the private sector. He wanted to know what form of harassment this was and what had been done about it.

Ms Steinman replied that it was everything that can be intended as racial remarks. Where the people are a minority, they are more likely to be discriminated against and that this was a worldwide phenomenon. She added that violence in the street could spill over into the workplace, particularly in public hospitals. It rarely happened in the private sector because they managed their risks better. She also believed that anything being done in the workplace had a cascading effect on communities.

Mr Nene could not understand why physical violence was so high in the public sector. He did not understand the conclusion of the study as it had concentrated largely on the health sector. He represented a constituency that was mostly in the agricultural sector, where there was a high rate of physical violence between employer and employee.

Mr Mogale asked about the statement made that they had to facilitate substantial change, he wanted to know what was the substantial change.

Ms Lewins replied that it was extremely complicated and it depended on the sector. There was not a universal reason. The more professional or institutional the sector, the more it had to do with the institutional culture. In one of their case studies, they had encountered cases of the upward floating colour bar, basically a form of window dressing. A second position had been created to defer the power from the black senior manager to the second in charge. This effectively made that person powerless. In some sectors it had to do with the commitment of managers, whether transformation was taken seriously or not. In other cases, a lot had to with unions as many unions had become totally defunct.

Mr Mogale asked to what extent did affirmative action instill fear in the previously advantaged minority, particularly those who regard it as reverse discrimination.

Ms Lewins replied that people respond differently. Those fears of affirmative action could contribute to the brain drain. It was not reverse discrimination. However one could not be dismissive of those fears as it could contribute to the brain drain. People might feel insecure and would then take their skills elsewhere. This could have serious implications on skills development.

Mr Mogale asked why it was traumatic to go to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

Ms Steinman explained that she meant that it was traumatic from a victim’s perspective. If the victim did not have enough witnesses to prove the case then there was nothing that that person could do. The CCMA needs proof that the victim had tried to do everything they could to improve the situation. She had been told that only 10 to 15% of reported cases of constructive dismissal had been successful. The numbers are still too low. What they have seen was that labour courts have spoken about the vicarious liability of the employer for actions committed by one of its employees that led to the victim’s post-traumatic stress. In the last two years, they have tested the vicarious liability of the employer.

The Chairperson asked about the difference between the private and public sector as there were more cases of violence in the public sector than in the private sector. She asked if this could be that there were more reported cases in the public than in the private sector.

Ms Steinman agreed that it was huge. The reason for this is because it included psychopathology, which included psychiatric patients. The major difference was the type of clientele that government institutions see.

The Chairperson asked what was the linkage between HIV/AIDS and WPV. Had there been a rise in cases related to HIV/AIDS over the years?

[As there were time constraints, this question went unanswered. The Committee requested a written response.]

Ms Rajbally commented that after hearing these submissions, would they have found a way forward?

The Chairperson reminded the member that they had decided that they would discuss the submissions and after all the discussion, the Committee would come up with recommendations.

The Chairperson then adjourned the meeting after thanking the presenters.



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