Cultural and religious diversity: Are they effectively accommodated in the South African workplace?
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Justice Yvonne Mokgoro and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu are but two of many public figures who have described South Africa as a “Rainbow Nation” – an expression used to highlight South Africa’s multicultural diversity. “Rainbow” is used to visually emphasise the various races, cultures, backgrounds and religions, to name but a few, of South Africa’s inhabitants. Yet, whilst diversity is in general regarded as good and necessary for societies to progress and evolve, practically managing diversity in micro-entities, such as places of work, unfortunately often turns out to be quite complicated. With diversity in mind, the general focus of this article will be on cultural and religious diversity in the South African workplace. Consequently, the meaning of “culture” and “religion” will be explored, albeit briefly, in contextualising the rest of the discussion. The article will attempt to illustrate that despite the competing cultural and religious interests of parties (with a focus on the competing interests of employers and employees in particular), South African courts appear willing to go to considerable lengths to protect the exercise of employees’ constitutional rights in this regard. In doing so the article will briefly explore cultural and religious diversity in South Africa, and in particular how such diversity filters through to, and is addressed in, the work environment. The article will proceed to consider existing legislation which addresses cultural and religious diversity in the South African workplace, and how such legislation has been implemented and interpreted by arbitrators and judges to date.