What’s the Difference Between Employment Equity and Affirmative Action?

23 Nov What’s the Difference Between Employment Equity and Affirmative Action?

Many business owners use the terms ‘employment equity’ and ‘affirmative action’ interchangeably, but – while both have the purpose of ensuring that the workplace is non-discriminatory, and more representative of the population – there are significant differences distinguishing them. Are you confused by what is meant by the two terms? Read on to find out the key differences between employment equity and affirmative action…

What is Employment Equity?

Up until fairly recently, working women around the world were discriminated against – faced with limited career scope (being locked out of certain professions, even), barriers to career advancement and lower salaries, when compared to their white male counterparts. In South Africa, though, not only did gender limit opportunities, but so too did race. Aligning itself with our Constitution, which guarantees non-discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, political opinion and religious beliefs, amongst other things, employment equity’s overarching aim is to ensure equal opportunity for all, and, in so doing, ensuring that the discriminatory approach and practices of the past aren’t continued or repeated in future. These ideals of non-discrimination and equal opportunity are encapsulated in the Employment Equity Act, No. 55 of 1998, and as further amended in the Employment Equity Amendment Act, No. 47 of 2013.  It’s important to note that employment equity distinguishes between unfair discrimination on arbitrary grounds – like barring someone suitably qualified from doing a certain job because they’re a particular gender – and fair discrimination, when criteria is based on the requirements of a position. This can include inherent requirements of a job, or affirmative action.

What is Affirmative Action?

The Department of Labour defines affirmative action as the process of ensuring that qualified people from designated groups have equal opportunities in the workplace. Currently designated groups are defined as black people, women and people with disabilities. In addition, designated groups must be equally represented in all job categories and levels of the workplace.

Affirmative action falls under the Employment Equity Act but, unlike employment equity which takes the long-term view, affirmative action can be described as a short-term labour policy which is aimed at redressing the inequalities of the past and, in so doing, achieving a transformed workplace which is representative of the greater South African population. In short, the Employment Equity Act provides a framework for implementing affirmative action.

How Do Employers Achieve Employment Equity?

Designated employers, as defined in the Employment Equity Act, and usually employers who employ 50 or more people, should have an employment equity plan, which sets out how they are achieve workplace diversity. This includes:

  • Analysing the demographic profile of the company’s current workforce
  • Having a manager responsible for handling the company’s employment equity issues
  • Determining whether there are barriers to entry or advancement for certain groups, and what these are
  • Preparing an employment equity plan
  • Reporting on workplace diversity and their employment equity plan to the Department of Labour.


Need further clarity on Employment Equity issues?

We’re here to assist you with achieving the aims of the Employment Equity Act, and have a deep understanding of, and vast experience in, employment equity and affirmative action. Contact us for more…


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