By Reon Janse van Rensburg
Solidarity has approached the Department of Labour with a request to intervene in the University of South Africa’s (UNISA’s) implementation of its proposed promotion criteria. According to Solidarity, the university’s proposal is a contravention of the Employment Equity Act (EEA).
“In the letter to Unisa, two aspects are identified which are, in our opinion, unfair and contrary to the objectives and provisions in the Employment Equity Act,” said Annika Labuschagne of Solidarity’s Centre for Fair Labour Practices. “In the first place, it is our contention that different criteria are proposed for different groups. The reason Unisa gives for doing so is to achieve the objectives set in its affirmative action plan with the ultimate goal of having Unisa’s workforce reflect the national economic active population (EAP). The criteria, as proposed, can create possible absolute barriers for individuals not belonging to the designated group. Secondly, we argue that the use of the EAP figures is irrational for such a specialised field and that a more equitable outcome would be achieved if the candidates’ demographics are considered,” she explained.
Solidarity has also approached the university senate in order to produce a more equitable outcome. They argue that, in terms of the promotion criteria, only designated employees would be eligible for promotion or appointment. This criteria is also based on a lower standard or reduced minimum standards.
Solidarity also expressed its concern over the impact such criteria will have on the quality of education offered at Unisa. “It is clear that two different sets of criteria exist for people from different groups. For example, if a person in the Law Faculty belongs to the non-designated group or to a designated group that is over-represented, this person must have at least a master’s degree to be promoted to senior lecturer. However, those in the underrepresented group only need an LLB degree or NQF Level 8 to be eligible for such promotion. The impact of this adjustment to the quality of teaching at Unisa is cause for concern, especially since Unisa’s LLB accreditation was under threat recently,” Labuschagne said.
In Unisa’s staff transformation plan, the university notes that in line with the EEA, “Unisa is required to develop an employment equity plan and set numerical goals that will accelerate measures towards achieving demographic representation of designated groups in each occupational level where under representation has been identified”.
The reason Unisa gives for doing so is to achieve the objectives set in its affirmative action plan with the ultimate goal of having Unisa’s workforce reflect the country’s EAP.
Solidarity insisted that Unisa and the department should comply with its demands as soon as possible, and undertook to take all legal steps at its disposal if this does not happen. “The problem with absolute barriers and the unreasonable application of national demographic figures goes beyond Unisa. Therefore, we hope that the university and the department will both step in to establish a fairer application. If this does not happen, we will be ready to take legal action and to act on behalf of our members at Unisa and elsewhere,” Labuschagne concluded.
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