Trade union Solidarity has asked that the Department of Labour intervene in stopping the University of South Africa (Unisa) from implementing its proposed promotion criteria, arguing that it is in contravention of the Employment Equity Act (EEA).
They have also asked that the university senate revisit the criteria in order "to produce a more equitable outcome".
In terms of the promotion criteria, designated employees would be eligible for promotion or appointment, based on a lower standard or reduced minimum standards, the trade union argued.
"Individuals of the designated group need not have the same qualifications and or experience than their white counterparts to be eligible for promotions or appointment," said Annika Labuschagne, of Solidarity's centre for fair labour practices.
The university defines "designated groups" as black people, women and people with disabilities.
In its staff transformation plan, the university notes that in line with the EEA, "Unisa is required to develop an Employment Equity plan and set numerical goals that will accelerate measures towards achieving demographic representation of designated groups in each occupational level where under representation has been identified".
The reason Unisa gives for doing so is to achieve the objectives set in its affirmative action plan with the ultimate goal of having Unisa's workforce reflect the country's economically active population (EAP).
But Solidarity says the criteria raises an insurmountable obstacle for all individuals not from the designated group.
"The criteria can create possible absolute barriers for individuals not belonging to the designated group... Therefore, we hope that the university and the department will both step in to establish a fairer application," said Labuschagne.
"If this does not happen, we will be ready to take legal action and to act on behalf of our members at Unisa and elsewhere."