The South African recruitment industry policies came under fire this week after Bheki Cele, the Police Minister, said that the South African Police Services (SAPS) would not employ people with tattoos as they had a “tendency of being a gangster”.

“When you have a tattoo, we don’t hire you, because you have a tendency of being a gangster,” said Cele. During an interview on local radio station, 702, Cele said his statement was based on facts, citing the SA Police Service (SAPS) recruitment policy. 

iFacts engaged with labour expert, Derrick Thalavirsan of HR Support Services, who said that Cele’s utterances are problematic, and unfortunate for a number of reasons.  “The minister has not referenced any scientific research that correlates tattooed people with gangsters. And whereas there may have been a tendency, in the past, during the superannuated minister’s youth, for gangsters to be tattooed, non-gangsters had them too. Roll on to the current day and one finds a tendency for all manner of people to get tattoos; it seems the practice has become somewhat gentrified. So the minister’s views are both dated and unscientific. The use of unscientific criteria in recruitments practices could be viewed as ‘arbitrary’; a term of some significance in our labour law; the Labour Relations Act makes special mention of unfair dismissals and unfair labour practices. Race, gender etc. are listed, as is arbitrary grounds.”

For the record, an applicant for a position enjoys the same rights as an employee in terms of labour law. Any arbitrary act that may be perceived to prejudice the employability of an individual may be challenged.

Thalavirsan concluded by saying that the minister’s utterances are at odds with SAPS policy, which (per his words) deals only with visible tattoos; they’re not completely proscribed.

Sonya Skipp of iFacts said that job specific pre-employment checks were essential in order to reduce the insider threat and there were various regulations that employers needed to be aware of before implementing an employee screening policy. Skipp highly recommends that employers engage with experts before putting random employee screening policies in place.