2nd Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 149, Issue 37

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Study on Issues of Discrimination in Hiring and Promotion Practices of Federal Public Service and Labour Market Outcomes for Minority Groups in Private Sector

Second Report of Human Rights Committee and Request for Government Response Adopted

The Senate proceeded to consideration of the second report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights entitled:Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service: Staying Vigilant for Equality, tabled in the Senate on December 10, 2013.

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I move:

That the report be adopted and that, pursuant to rule 12-24(1), the Senate request a complete and detailed response from the government, with the President of the Treasury Board being identified as minister responsible for responding to the report.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

On debate, Senator Jaffer.

Senator Jaffer: I rise today to speak on the December 2013 report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights entitled Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service: Staying Vigilant for Equality.

I will first give you some background information on the Employment Equity Act, and then I will remind you of the committee’s previous reports on this topic and finally speak to the most recent report.

I would also like to inform all the senators here that this report was unanimously adopted by the Senate Human Rights Committee.

The Employment Equity Act came into force in 1996. The act regulates the federal public service and federally regulated private sector, requiring positive action to integrate members of “designated groups” into these employment sectors. The designated groups are women, Aboriginal people, persons with disabilities and visible minorities.

The purpose of the act is to achieve equality in the workplace and to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by the four designated groups — women, Aboriginal people, persons with disabilities and visible minorities — by recognizing that treating all people the same is insufficient.

The act recognizes that sometimes special measures and accommodation of differences are necessary to achieve true equality.

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The act requires federally regulated employers to assess the degree to which employment equity is a reality in their workplace and implement policies to produce the necessary changes.

I turn to previous employment equity reports of the Senate Committee on Human Rights.

[Translation]

Since 2004, the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights has a permanent reference to examine issues of discrimination in the hiring and promotion practices of the federal public service, and to study the extent to which targets to achieve employment equity are being met.

The committee continues to study this issue because employment equity has not yet been achieved in the federal public service and we think we can propose practical recommendations to improve the situation.

At the beginning, we emphasized the need to pay more attention to employment equity and to take steps to achieve that goal.

Now that action has been taken, the priority has switched to monitoring and evaluating to assess the effectiveness of the efforts made so far.

During that study, the committee produced three reports. The most recent, entitled Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service: Staying Vigilant for Equality, was presented to the Senate in December 2013.

[English]

The first report of the preliminary findings, Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service — Not There Yet, was published in February 2007. Though improvements were being made at that time, the committee found that progress was not fast enough. It found that visible minorities remained under-represented in the federal public service and that no designated group was well represented at the executive level or in all occupational groups.

The rate of recruitment for persons with disabilities was significantly lower than their representation in the federal public service, the representation rate being the percentage of the federal public service that are members of a designated group.

The committee was also concerned about the concentration of Aboriginal employees in certain departments.

[Translation]

The report includes three recommendations:

  • that the bonuses of deputy ministers be tied to performance assessments in terms of progress on diversity and employment equity goals;
  • that the federal public service develop concrete means to implement its plan of action in order to ensure equal access to executive level positions and all occupational categories for each of the designated groups;
  • that the federal public service adopt a specific policy to ensure the effective removal of the systemic barriers that exist within hiring and staffing processes.

[English]

The second report, Reflecting the Changing Face of Canada: Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service, was published in June 2010. That report examined a number of challenges with data collection and data accuracy, such as the accuracy of representation rates, particularly with respect to visible minorities. It also addressed the outdated workforce availability statistics, which are the statistics that tell us what percentage of the active workforce identifies as being members of one or more of the designated groups.

Honourable senators, to date we still rely on statistics from 2006, and we are in 2014. Workforce availability statistics are based on census data and are published years after the data is collected, which affects their accuracy.

[Translation]

Other issues addressed in the report included the impact of non-advertised positions on employment equity and the high drop-off rate for visible minorities, meaning that they were applying at a far greater rate than they were being appointed to positions.

Access to executive positions, concentration of Aboriginal employees in a few departments and insufficient recruitment of persons with disabilities, all of which were discussed in the 2007 report, continued to be issues in 2010.

[English]

The second report made 13 recommendations that both reiterated the recommendations made in the first report, as they had yet to be implemented, and provided new ones. Some of the new recommendations included the following:

[Translation]

On understanding the drop-off rate for visible minorities.

On advocacy and accountability:

  • that the federal government develop concrete means of seeking accountability from managers in the federal public service for their responsibilities in enforcing the standards outlined in the Employment Equity Act;
  • that the federal government place special emphasis on the need for leadership and a strong organization culture when seeking to achieve employment equity goals;
  • that the federal government implement a communication strategy to promote its employment equity goals.

On cases of discrimination:

  • that the government seek to make Canada’s human rights protection system under the Canadian Human Rights Act more effective and accessible, in order to ensure its ability to protect individuals from discrimination in a concrete way.

[English]

The most recent report: In October 2011, the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights began new hearings on the topic of employment equity in the federal public service.

Summary of the situation for each of the designated groups: There have been some important improvements since 2010 but, again, there is much to be done. Still a lot of progress has to be made to have the visible minorities properly represented in the federal public service.

Honourable senators, I point out to you that the federal public service is relying on 2006 statistics, while the population of visible minorities has greatly increased. For example, visible minorities, according to the statistics of 2006, are 12.1 per cent of the population. But we all can take note that that is not correct, as the number of visible minorities in our country has greatly increased. In some cities they are more than half, 50 per cent, or certainly up to 35 per cent of the population.

A word of caution is necessary, nonetheless, as these conclusions are based on 2006 workforce availability figures, which likely understate the percentage of the Canadian workforce that are visible minorities.

Aboriginal employees are still concentrated in a few departments and are leaving the federal public service at a greater rate than they are being hired.

For persons with disabilities, there is a concern that the government may be meeting its targets as existing employees develop a disability, as opposed to through active recruitment, though the phenomenon is not sufficiently well understood to say definitively.

[Translation]

Lastly, women are still lagging behind men in terms of being appointed to executive and high-salary positions and are still largely clustered in certain occupations and departments.

They remain concentrated in administrative support jobs, generally hold lower-paying jobs than men and are over-represented in term appointments.

Recommendations:

Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service: Staying Vigilant for Equality examines the changes resulting from the creation of the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, or OCHRO, in 2009 and recent workforce adjustment processes and their impact on employment equity, as well as data collection and analysis challenges and the advocacy being done on the topic of employment equity.

Given that many of this committee’s key observations made in Reflecting the Changing Face of Canada can still be made again today, we continue to stand behind the 13 recommendations we made in that report.

The report sets out two new recommendations, one with regard to monitoring and evaluation and the other with regard to employment equity advocacy.

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With regard to monitoring and evaluation, the committee recommends that the federal government support greater monitoring and evaluation to achieve employment equity in the federal public service.

[English]

The recommendation on monitoring and evaluation outlines a number of areas in which improvements are necessary.

Honourable senators, we as a country have made great progress in the number of people we have in our public service from these four different groups, but I would be remiss if I did not remind you that for us to reach equality, we have to treat people differently.

I will read to you the Treasury Board definitions of the following terms. The Treasury Board of the federal public service has accepted these definitions:

Formal Equality

Formal equality is achieved when we treat members of the official language minority community and those of the majority community in the same way by offering them identical services in French and in English without taking into account the two possible differences that exist between members of these two communities.

Substantive Equality

Substantive equality is achieved when one takes into account, where necessary, the differences in characteristics and circumstances of minority communities and provides services with distinct content or using a different method of delivery to ensure that the minority receives services of the same quality as the majority.This approach is the norm in Canadian law.

Honourable senators, it is the norm in Canadian law, but we have not achieved equality. Let me give you some examples.

With respect to women, in the Meiorin case, a duty to accommodate case, there was a standard aerobic test for forest firefighters. A female firefighter failed to pass the test and was dismissed, despite having performed her work satisfactorily. There was evidence that women could not increase their aerobic capacity to meet the test, and it was not established that passing the test was necessary to do the job.

By treating men and women the same, requiring them to pass the test, the women were affected unfairly.

With respect to disability, an example of a wheelchair access ramp is a good one. Other recommendations include being able to work from home for individuals with chemical sensitivities or adequate sick leave policies for certain types of disabilities.

Honourable senators, this is a category that greatly concerns our committee because there isn’t enough access to the federal public service for people who have disabilities. The reason the public service meets the norm is because people become sick at work rather than being hired with a disability.

With respect to visible minorities and Aboriginal people, this is an expanding group, and much has to be done so that they can be properly represented in the federal public service. We’ve heard on numerous occasions that there are issues regarding discrimination, both for Aboriginal people — may I have five minutes, please?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Colleagues, is it agreed that we will give five more minutes to Senator Jaffer?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you.

There is systemic discrimination towards Aboriginal people and people in visible minorities.

Honourable senators, I stand in front of you today to say much progress has been made, but if you are the individual in the federal public service who is a visible minority or from an Aboriginal community, if there is discrimination against you, your career is at its end. We still have a lot of work to do.

May I please ask that you move to adopt this report?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Continuing debate? Are honourable senators ready for the question?

Some Hon. Senators: Question.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Honourable senators, it was moved by the Honourable Senator Jaffer, seconded by the Honourable Senator Ringuette:

That the report be adopted and that, pursuant to rule 12-24(1), the Senate request a complete and detailed response from the government, with the President of the Treasury Board being identified as minister responsible for responding to the report.

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to and report adopted.)

 

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