"The department of labour wants to use the new regulations to return to a dispensation in which the labour force is classified along racial lines," Solidarity's deputy general secretary Dirk Hermann said in a statement on Tuesday.
Progress of affirmative action
The employment equity reports, due on Monday, include a form, EEA1, to be filled out by employees, asking them to indicate "to which categories you belong". The aim of the report was to determine the progress of affirmative action.
People could tick either, "African", "Coloured", "Indian" or "White".
Hermann said since there was no longer a law to define South Africans' racial identity — the Population Registration Act was scrapped in June 1991 — "self-classification" was being put in place to fill this gap.
He said affirmative action should rather focus on socio-economic position, rather than race.
"This will result in a dispensation in which people who had actually been disadvantaged will benefit, instead of the process being based on skin colour," he argued.
According to the SA labour department's website, the purpose of form EEA1 was to "get information from workers on a voluntary basis, to assist employers with analysing their workplace profile".
"If they [employees] refuse, the employer can fill in the race," said Hermann.
Racial profile of staff
Labour ministry spokesperson Mokgadi Pela said companies were obliged, under the Employment Equity Act, to provide the racial profile of their staff.
"The law forces them to, it's an act of Parliament. If they don't they can be taken to court."
Contravening the Act could result in a fine, if an employer was found guilty, of between R500 000 and R900 000.
According to the Act, an employer had to conduct an "analysis" of their places of work. This was to "determine the degree of under-representation of people from designated groups in various occupational categories and levels...". According to the Act, "designated groups" referred to blacks, women and people with disabilities.
Pela said as far as he knew the responsibility for filling in EEA1 lay with companies' human resources departments, since they should already have the racial profile of the company's staff.
"It doesn't make any difference [who fills the form in]... at the end of the day we need those figures."
He said the slow transformation of workplaces had required the labour department to seek information on race. The number of black people in top management had increased by 2.1 percent over the past five years, said Pela.
"If we continue at this pace we will only achieve equity in 50 years.
Power lies at the top
"The problem, if you look at the race profile of the workplace, particularly in the private sector, the majority are white males, followed by white females. The top positions are where power lies, and that's what we're interested in."
Pela said a number of Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed companies had asked the labour minister for a meeting to request the October 2 deadline be extended.
While Solidarity criticised the racial profiling, a researcher at BEE ratings agency Empowerdex, said providing the information was in an employer's best interest.
"They're going to be penalised [if they don't provide the information] for showing a low employment equity [rating], that's not good for their BEE score," said Sherilee Bridge, manager of research.
She said it was up to employers to explain to their workers the need for them to indicate their race.
"Under apartheid, employers filled out what race their employees were, so this gives the employee the chance to do that. Racial classification will be with us for a while until we're fully transformed," she said.
If it was left up to employers to classify their staff, confusion could result, in cases where a director looked white, was actually coloured and had an Afrikaans surname.
Research conducted by Empowerdex late last year revealed that only 15 JSE-listed companies had predominantly black boards, while 166 had at least one black board member. There were 143 companies without a single black board member.
In a Solidarity memorandum, the trade union encouraged employees to classify themselves as "African", alternatively as "South African", on EEA1.
Former law professor at Unisa, Professor Marinus Wiechers, said criteria such as training, education and income should rather be used, instead of race.
"These kinds of things can certainly be identified. One of the worst characteristics of the previous system was race classification. Now we're back [to that] again."