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Racism in the workplace

The calendar says 2013, our behaviour doesn’t

By Todd Humber

In a recent post, I questioned a move by the Ontario Human Rights Commission to put out a policy that said asking for “Canadian experience” in job postings was discriminatory.

Not because it wasn’t the right thing to do, but because I had hoped we’d moved past that stage by now. It’s 2013, after all.

It’s a naive, albeit optimistic view. And to drive that point home, a copy of the Toronto Star recently landed on my porch with the headline, “Human Rights Tribunal fines farm $23,500 for calling migrant workers ‘monkeys.’”

Adrian Monrose, a migrant farm worker from St. Lucia, was in Canada as a temporary worker at Double Diamond Acres, a tomato farm in Kingsville, Ont.

He claimed the owner and a supervisor called him and his co-workers monkeys. “You’re like monkeys on a branch,” the owner allegedly said. And the supervisor said, in a separate incident, “That’s why (the owner) calls you guys monkeys.”

After complaining about the taunts, he was dismissed and sent home.

The farm owners denied the claim, countering Monrose was terminated because he was “prone to violence,” alleging he physically pushed the supervisor.

But the human rights tribunal sided with Monrose, and ordered the farm to pay him $23,500 in owed wages, reprisal and loss of dignity.

I don’t have to dig far through the pages of Canadian HR Reporter and its sister publications, including Canadian Employment Law Today, to find stories similar to this one, unfortunately. A sampling:

Racist remarks cost trucking boss $31,750 — in that case, an employee at a Toronto trucking company was called a “Paki” and was told people of South Asian origin were “stupid” and “ignorant.”

Teacher loses licence for off-duty racist conduct — in that case, an Ontario teacher associated with racist groups and attended a birthday party for Hitler.

Rampant racism on Quebec farm — The Quebec human rights tribunal awarded more than $60,000 in damages to four black workers at family-run vegetable farm in Ste-Clotilde de Chateaugay, Que. The farm had a well-equipped cafeteria, but the black workers weren’t allowed near it. They had to eat and change in a “filthy shack that was never cleaned, had no running water and lacked heat.” The toilets had been condemned and the farm set up chemical toilets outside the shack. Graffiti on the farm read, “Here are our monkeys” and “Blacks are pigs.”

Employers can moan and complain about red tape and regulations coming from government and the onus courts and tribunals place on them.

But until this type of behaviour is eradicated, and a cynic may say it never will be, it’s clear we can’t just cross our fingers and hope everyone in the workplace does the right thing.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com or visit www.hrreporter.com for more information.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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