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No impunity for violators

Vilbard Usiku, Employment Equity CommissionerCommissioner warns companies to honour Affirmative Action legislation

Employers who violate the Affirmative Action law will not go unpunished, Employment Equity Commissioner, Vilbard Usiku says.
Usiku warned that no business can violate the Affirmative Action Act without impunity and that the commission will take them to task.
He says should it be found that a business does not comply with the law, it will be taken to court.
According to the commissioner, discrimination against workers based on their race or gender is not exclusive to a specific economic sector, but extends to both the public and private sectors.
“I can’t single out a specific sector; it is spread across all sectors. Even government ministries do not submit their affirmative action plans on a regular basis, however we deal with them. We have a police officer attached to the commission and he pays them a visit to put the legal process against violators on the roll,” Usiku said.
The Employment Equity Commission regularly receives complaints from employees who feel discriminated against in terms of remuneration and promotions.
“These employees often feel that although they have the same qualifications and experience as their white counterparts, the white employees are given promotions based on their race and women also feel discriminated against. Racism is still a big problem,” said Usiku.
In its 2009/2010 annual report, the commission states that people living with disabilities only account for 0.5% of the workforce, while white Namibians hold 59% of executive director and 42.5% of senior management positions.
“When the law makers implemented this law, they knew it would be a process and not an event – they knew it would take a long time to address inequality. So far, it has been a painfully slow process especially in terms of the gender aspect. Inequity in the workplace still remains a problem. When you compare the current situation to that in 2000, you will see that there is a change for the better, however, it is not good enough,” Usiku stressed.
He added that businesses who employ more than 25 people are required to submit a three-year affirmative action plan which aims to rectify imbalances and it is up to the commission to ensure that they live up to this plan.
“These companies must report on the progress they have made. If we feel that no effort has been made, we engage the employers,” Usiku told the Economist this week.
Stating that most workplaces still have an Irish-coffee concentration where whites are on top and blacks are at a lower level, he said it will take a while to change people’s mindsets.
Another challenge the commission is faced with is a shortage of staff.
“The commission is currently under-staffed and we cannot monitor the situation in all 13 regions. We are supposed to have regional offices but we are only based in Windhoek which makes it difficult to monitor employers in all the regions,” Usiku further said.
He said the commission will approach Parliament soon in this regard.
This year, the commission will focus on creating awareness on the training guidelines of employees as set out in the Affirmative Action Act.
The Act states that every employer who appoints a non-Namibian must appoint an understudy for that person.
“It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that there is skills transfer. We want to ensure that the guidelines set out in the Act reach all Namibians. Employers must adhere to these guidelines, it must not be lip-service but a specific intervention,” said Usiku.
So far, the Employment Equity Commission has laid charges against about 200 companies for failure to comply with the Affirmative Action Act. Forty companies have paid admission of guilt fines for either late submission of their reports or for non-compliance between 1 April 2010 and 31 March 2011.

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