Building human rights into reward structure

WE RECENTLY celebrated Human Rights Day on March 21, and fairness is on everyone’s lips.
How companies distribute their benefits, burdens and rewards also becomes more important during times of austerity, says Mark Bussin, an executive member and past President of the South African Reward Association (SARA).
“While there are many South African companies who admirably reward hard work and engagement, there are unfortunate situations that blur the lines between unfair practices and human rights infringements,” he says.

The wage gap between top and bottom workers is too big

The remuneration that top executives receive is disproportionate to what the lowest level of workers earns. When it comes to just corporate behaviour, worker pay-related issues are at or close to the top of the list of things that employees consider.
“A measure of justness is the ratio of what the CEO earns compared to the ‘average worker’. Today, South African CEOs earn far more than they did in previous decades. This destroys morale, demotivates workers and raises more than a few ethical questions,” he says.
While executives and rewards professionals do not always have the solutions, Bussin makes a few suggestions. Annual bonuses, for example, can be paid out as an equal percentage to all levels across the business.
“Instead of the top-level executives earning a 100% bonus and the lowest level workers earning 10%, consider giving everyone across the board a 25% annual bonus. Work with a reward professional to find a sustainable way of rewarding everyone within your company,” he says.

Closing the gender wage gap

In South Africa, women earn over 18% less than men, and this gap continues to grow.
“The gender wage gap, combined with how women are prejudiced in the workplace, is an infringement on human rights. Companies need to deeply consider unconscious biases throughout their supply chain. Everyone from the recruiter and HR manager to line managers need to be conscious of the fact that women have been earning less for years,” says Bussin.

Foreigners are exploited

The former minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, once bemoaned what he called the “super-exploitation” of foreigners . Some companies hire foreign labour, particularly labour from neighbouring countries, because they can pay below the minimum wage.
“A local employee who gets paid below the minimum wage can easily go to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, but foreigners either can’t or don’t. The exploitation of foreigners is tied to human rights, and it’s something that needs to change from within companies,” he says.

Work hours

South Africans are three times more likely to work 60 hours a week than many other countries, making them some of the hardest workers in the world.
“South Africans are working much longer hours than their employment contracts specify. This is an infringement of human rights. Rewards professionals should work alongside HR professionals and executives to make sure all people within their business are being treated and compensated fairly,” says Bussin.

Mark Bussin is the exco member and past president of the South African Reward Association, and chairperson of 21st Century.

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