LABOUR Minister Mildred Oliphant on Friday commended Woolworths, for its “unwavering effort to genuinely address transformation in the workplace through the implementation of employment equity”.

The retailer has been at the centre of a social media storm following accusations by blogger Justin Harrison that the group posted advertisements on its career site that excluded whites. Mr Harrison called for a boycott of the company.

Ms Oliphant said it was important to highlight that the retailer was among the number of large designated employers listed on the JSE that are subject to the director-general review process in terms of sections 43-45 of the Employment Equity Act.

“During this process, like any other employer that was reviewed, Woolworths committed itself to transforming their workplace by implementing their employment equity plan as approved by the director-general.

“Subsequent to that, as part of the department’s monitoring mechanisms, Woolworths was amongst those companies that were followed up in the 2011-12 financial year to gauge progress made against the objectives they committed themselves to their approved employment equity plan,” she said.

Woolworths store front  Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

According to the minister, Woolworths had generally progressed well towards achieving race and gender equity in the workplace in terms of its own employment equity numerical targets set in its employment equity plan, a plan on which workers had been consulted and to which they had agreed.

“There are companies that are genuinely addressing transformation in the workplace through the implementation of employment equity and Woolworths is one of such companies,” Ms Oliphant said.

“However, there are those that hate to see integration in the workplace and society in general, they seek to find fault with those that genuinely implement employment equity as a means of addressing our painful past and imbalance in our society,” she said.

“As the government of South Africa and those that seek genuine transformation, we shall continue to encourage companies like Woolworths to continue with the transformation and integration of the society.”

Labour union Solidarity this week launched a campaign to boycott Woolworths after the retail giant ignored its deadline to remove advertisements the union claimed were racist towards white job seekers.

Last year, the Commission for Employment Equity, which advises the minister on matters of employment equity, cautioned at the release of its annual report that it would take more than 129 years to transform the workplace to reflect South Africa’s demographics, judging by the snail pace of transformation.

The 2011 Commission for Employment Equity report showed that top management and senior management positions were still dominated by whites while blacks were stuck in the lower rungs in unskilled and semi-skilled jobs.

Figures from the 2012 Commission for Employment Equity report indicate not much has changed.

Ms Oliphant said workplace equality in South Africa was not only constitutionally imperative but also sought to address the country’s painful past.

On Thursday, Woolworths CEO Ian Moir said the accusations against the company were “simply not true”.

“Woolworths does employ white people. We employ women and men of all races — white, black, coloured, Indian, as well as people with disabilities, and will continue to do so.

“We’re a passionately South African company, so diversity is important to us. So is offering fair career opportunities.

“There are some areas of our business where certain groups are seriously underrepresented. These are the positions where we actively look for qualified candidates from specific groups,” Mr Moir said.

Meanwhile, questions have been raised about blogger Mr Harrison’s integrity.

Local website 2oceansvibe has said that, after an extensive investigation, “it could reveal that the blogger whistle-blower had some integrity/challenging skeletons of his own”.

In an article on its website titled, “Is Woolworths Whistleblower SA’s Biggest Online Fake?”, the website used analytics tools and interviewed members of the local digital marketing community.

“It seems like Mr Harrison was called out for the high number of fake followers on his account as far back as 2009,” the website said.

It said Mr Harrison refused to comment on questions put to him asking whether he had ever bought Twitter followers. Neither would he offer an explanation for the massive spikes in his Twitter and YouTube statistics.