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Employment Equity Act 1998 (South Africa)

Category: Legislation
Binomial Name: Government of the Republic of South Africa
Date: 19 October 1998
Sub Category:Legislation
State/Country:Republic of South Africa
Subject Matter:Economic Development | Employment and Training
Summary Information:
The Employment Equity Act 1998 (South Africa) ('the Act') was enacted by the South African Government to address racially-skewed employment rates in post-apartheid South Africa. The Act seeks to affect this by implementing affirmative action measures in order to ensure that black South Africans, women and people with disabilities have 'equitable representation in all occupational categories and levels in the workforce.' (s 2(b)). The right to equality is one that is also constitutionally-protected.

The Act also provides that employers must 'take steps to promote equal opportunity' and prohibits unfair discrimination, which it states does not include affirmative action in line with the Act. In addition, the Act prohibits the testing of employees to determine their HIV status, unless special circumstances exist.
Detailed Information:

The preamble to the Act states that it is being enacted:

  • that as a result of apartheid and other discriminatory laws and practices, there are disparities in employment, occupation and income within the national labour market; and
  • that those disparities create such pronounced disadvantages for certain categories of people that they cannot be redressed simply by repealing discriminatory laws.'

    Nelson Mandela, then President of South Africa, stated in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill of the Act, 'the special measures that we envisage to overcome the legacy of past discrimination are not intended to ensure the advancement of unqualified persons, but to see to it that those who have been denied access to qualifications in the past can become qualified now, and that those who have been qualified all along but overlooked because of past discrimination, are at last given their due.' (cited in Dupper, 122).

    Affirmative action provisions

    The Act provides that employers must implement an 'employment equity plan' that details what affirmative action steps that employer will take to achieve equitable representation of 'suitably qualified' black South Africans, women and disabled people throughout their workforce. A 'suitably qualified' person is one who is qualified for a job as a result of one of the following factors:
  • formal qualifications;
  • prior learning;
  • relevant experience; or
  • capacity to acquire, within a reasonable time, the ability to do the job (s 20(3)).

    Lack of previous relevant experience is not something that an employer can take into account when assessing candidates. These provisions apply to employers with 50 or more workers, those with an annual income higher than a specified amount, any organs of the State, any employers bound by a 'bargaining council agreement', and any other employers who volunteer to comply with them. The Act does not apply to the National Defence Force, the National Intelligence Agency or the South African Secret Service. (s 4(3))


    The Act also establishes the Commission for Employment Equity, whose functions include to advise the Government on Codes of Good Practice and to make awards recognising employers' achievements, and provides for monitoring, enforcement and the bringing of legal proceedings for breaches of the Act.

  • Related Entries

  • Government of the Republic of South Africa
  • Legislation
  • Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996
  • Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act, 2003 (South Africa)
  • Policy/Strategy
  • Black Economic Empowerment
  • Apartheid
  • Draft Black Economic Empowerment Charter for the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Sector

  • Glossary


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