Legislation: Equality Act amendments labelled 'ridiculous'

A proposed amendment Bill to promote equality and prevent discrimination has been slammed as ridiculous, unattainable, ideologically skewed, and impossible to implement, according to Business Day. The National Employers Association of SA (Neasa), which has 10 000 members, says it is vehemently opposed to the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Amendment Bill, which has been released by the Justice Department for public comment and has called for it to be scrapped.

Neasa senior policy adviser Rona Bekker said that the issue of inequality in society could not be addressed by way of the proposed amendments but only through upskilling and proper education. Neasa’s written submission on the Bill stated that the proposed amendments went beyond the legislative scope and jurisdiction of the original Act, contradicted the values enshrined in the Constitution, and served as mechanisms to unfairly benefit and advance certain groups ‘as a retrospective payback for historical injustice’. It said instances of unfair discrimination and hate speech were already sufficiently catered for in current legislation. ‘Instead of criminalizing fair discrimination on justified objective grounds, the state should focus their time, efforts, and resources on actually improving the socio-economic circumstances of their citizens. The salient issues, such as hate speech and racism, will not disappear because there is extensive regulatory legislation thereon. Neither will the socio-economic circumstances of the people be improved or protected.’

The Bill proposes to expand the definition of equality in the Act to include the equal right and access to resources, opportunities, benefits, and advantages and the requirement to achieve equality in terms of impact and outcome notes Business Day. The definition of discrimination is expanded significantly to mean any act, omission, practice, or situation that – whether intentional or not – imposes burdens on, withholds benefits from, causes prejudice to, or otherwise undermines the dignity of any person for a reason related to the prohibited grounds of race, sex-gender, and 15 other grounds. It is irrelevant whether the reason for the discrimination is the sole or dominant reason for the act or omission in question. An act will be discriminatory even when it was not intended as such. This expanded definition of discrimination will make it easier for complainants to substantiate their claims of unfair discrimination, but Neasa says that would tip the balance against the accused too far, gives the complainant too much power, and deprives accused persons of equality before the law.

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