Jimmy Manyi says he will lean hard on white business

The appointment of Jimmy Manyi as director-general of the Department of Labour is a clear signal from government that it intends taking a stronger line on employment equity.

“You can read that into it,” says the 45- year-old executive from Tiger Brands who, as head of the Black Management Forum (BMF), has been the scourge of companies which fail to achieve employment equity targets.

“The department is getting a lot more serious about employment equity compliance. They’ve always been serious, but I think now they’re cranking it to the next notch.”

Manyi has long called for heavier penalties to be imposed on companies that fail to make enough black appointments.

He has never bought the skills shortage argument and doesn’t now.

The BMF has a database filled with the names of skilled graduates who can’t find jobs, he says.

But do their qualifications fit them for senior technical management positions in fields like finance and construction?

The governor of the Reserve Bank came to him for a couple of economics PhDs, he says.

Tito Mboweni told him he had tried five recruitment firms without success.

Mboweni once riled Manyi when he announced that he was forced to make white appointments because he couldn’t find blacks with the necessary skills.

“Within a week I gave him two people, one of them an African woman,” says Manyi triumphantly.

He accuses “white” companies of “inflating their requirements” to pretend that black skills don’t exist.

“They get very particular about the qualifications they need. They define the skills requirement so specifically that it cuts a lot of people out.”

If the black candidate has those qualifications, “then they get very serious about the experience they need to have”.

He denies that the root of the skills problem is the inferior education system.

“That’s an excuse. We have enough people who have graduated and are qualified and can be used in the economic system.

“We are sitting with a surplus of black graduates, so how can you say the education system is not working?”

He also refuses to blame affirmative action appointments for the fact that two-thirds of the country’s municipalities are dysfunctional.

The real culprit is the “apartheid infrastructure” they inherited, he says.

“It was designed to cater for the few. Now that same infrastructure must cater for the many.”

He concedes that “bad appointments” are part of the problem as well, but “in the first place, when you make bad appointments, you can’t blame affirmative action. The people they appoint must be suitably qualified. If they’re not, then they’re not doing affirmative action.”

On the impact of the recession on jobs and how the labour department might encourage employment by easing labour regulations, he is adamantly opposed to such ideas. Any attempt to ease the regulations would impede transformation, he says.

“Labour laws are part of transformation. People must internalise the transformation agenda in this country and not see it as an appendage. We must all mainstream transformation. Whatever we do must never be done outside the context of transformation.

“We’re trying to move into a transformed society where people’s dignity is preserved. We’re not going to go into a situation where the workers’ dignity is stripped.”

Talking about dignity, what about the mass trashing of towns and cities that accompanies strike action these days?

“A lot of improvement is required there. That is a bad sight, I must say. I don’t think anybody in his right mind can condone that kind of activity.”

But it is not for the labour department to step in, for instance to insist that unions discipline their members, he says.

That is for the law enforcement agencies.

Would he like to see stronger action, more arrests and prosecutions?

Only if the same stern approach was applied to the white-collar sector, he says.

It would be unfair to focus on workers.

He refuses to be drawn on one of the biggest topical issues of the moment, that of labour brokers.

The department will wait for the outcome of public hearings on their future, he says. But he supports the minister’s comments about the labour-broking industry, which have been hostile.

The new DG is in an unforgiving mood and businesses — on whose side he supposedly batted as a leader of Business Unity South Africa — are in for a rough ride.

Useful resources:
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