The federal government is having problems meeting visible minority hiring objectives while meeting targets for women, Aboriginal and disabled peoples.
In its annual update on employment equity initiatives released in March, the federal government conceded that efforts to recruit more visible minorities into the public service are falling short, though targets for other designated groups (Aboriginal people, women and people with disabilities) are being met.
The situation is getting better, but more definitely needs to be done, said Wally Boxhill, a director of the employment equity division of the Public Service Human Resource Management Agency of Canada.
Responding to claims in the late ’90s that visible minorities remained under-represented in the federal public service, the government, in June 2000, agreed to an action plan to increase the representation of visible minorities in the workforce, including new benchmarks for hiring.
By 2003, 20 per cent of all new hires were to be visible minorities, and by 2005, 20 per cent of everyone enrolled in executive recruitment and management programs should be of a visible minority.
The latest figures show that 9.5 per cent of new hires are members of a visible minority group, down from 10 per cent the year before. “Since the implementation of the action plan, the population of visible minorities has increased by over 4,000 employees, and representation now stands at 7.4 per cent, compared with 5.5 per cent in 2000,” states the report.
“The trend is generally upward on all measures, but the public service is far from meeting the external recruitment benchmark pegged for 2003.”
“Intake targets are not being met,” admitted Boxhill. “Representation has been progressing but we have not been meeting the (recruiting) benchmarks.”
He said it is difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the poor recruitment results but added it takes time to change recruitment policies and practices in as large an institution as the federal government. It is also difficult for the workforce to be representative of the population because the number of visible minorities in the general population has been increasing.
But, he added, steps are being taken to increase the recruitment of visible minorities, including working with community associations that represent immigrants.
But while the government said it is well on the way to fixing the problem, one senator fears the low number of visible minorities is due to racism.
“Systemic racism in the public service of Canada has reached an all-time high. Morale among visible minorities is at an all-time low. There is little, if any, hope of advancement or of their being treated equally with others,” said Nova Scotia senator Don Oliver in a speech last month.
“Why, after all the rhetoric, do Blacks and other visible minorities only make up about 7.4 per cent of the federal civil service when we represent 13.4 per cent of the population?”
He called on the government to do more to increase the number of visible minorities working in the public service, including the creation of a visible minority commission similar to the Official Languages Commissioner, a renewed effort to educate recruiters about the problem and an increase of responsibility for HR heads.
Denis Coderre, the minister responsible for public service hiring, denied racism is to blame for the low number of visible minorities.
Obligations for contractors
The Employment Equity Act was first passed in 1986, then reviewed and strengthened in 1995. The act also covers any private sector contractor with more than 100 workers in Canada and with contracts valued at more than $200,000. While private-sector firms are not expected to meet the 20-per-cent-hiring target, they do have to have their own goals with flexible timelines, based on workforce analysis and planning.
Employment equity legislation has had little impact on employers in either the public or private sector, said Trevor Wilson, president of diversity consulting firm, TWI and author of Diversity at Work: The Business Case for Equity.
The poor results in the public sector speak for themselves, he said. And in the private sector, a lot of organizations doing work for the federal government either find ways to get around the law or simply ignore the requirements, he said.
“They sign the compliance certificate every year and keep their fingers crossed that they won’t get audited,” he said. And in most cases, they won’t. The government doesn’t have enough auditors to make the threat of an audit meaningful, he said.
But in any case, the goals and expectations set out in the Employment Equity Act should almost be irrelevant today. The business imperative for diversity and equity is far greater than the legislated one, he said. Recruiting and developing a diverse workforce should go well beyond what is set out by Ottawa, he said.
“Organizations think that employment equity is the ceiling for what they should be doing but it is really just the floor,” he said. “I am not saying don’t comply with it, but the requirements should just be a minimum.”
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