Public service falls short on hiring minorities

Security checks, citizenship and French requirements present barriers

While 25 per cent of all applicants for federal public service jobs identify themselves as being a visible minority, only 10 per cent of hires are visible minorities, according to a presentation made to the Public Service Commission.

In 2000, after a government report found the federal government lagged behind the private sector in its representation of visible minorities, the government adopted Embracing Change, a plan to increase external recruitment of visible minorities to one-in-five — the predicted representation of visible minorities in Canada by 2016.

“We’re not happy with what the government has managed to achieve. It has failed in meeting the targets that have been set,” said Patty Ducharme, national executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents several thousand unionized workers in the federal public service. “The best the government ever achieved in the past few years was one-in-10. That’s not good enough.”

Other employment equity groups — women, Aboriginal people and people with disabilities — have not shown the same disparity between applicants and hires.

As a result, the Public Service Commission is undertaking a study to find out where barriers to visible minorities, and other employment equity groups, exist within the recruitment process — from screening to interview questions to hiring.

“We’re going to do it on a very systemic basis,” said Paula Green, the director general of equity and diversity in the commission’s policy branch and the person leading the study. “We’re going to look at the whole process.”

The irony is that some of the industries the government regulates for employment equity, such as banks, do a much better job of recruiting and hiring visible minorities.

“The private sector understands that employment equity is the right thing to do and quite frankly it makes good business sense,” said Ducharme. “We obviously have to recognize the work that the private sector has put in to hire (visible minority) workers. The government of Canada has quite frankly failed on that account.”

The Public Service Commission has already identified some potential barriers for visible minorities in the recruiting process.

“Some of the factors could be the way we set up the qualifications,” said Green. “They might be too stringent if we ask for a lot of Canadian experience, a lot of Canadian culture.”

While public servants don’t have to have Canadian citizenship, the Public Service Employment Act, the legislation governing the public service, places a performance on hiring Canadian citizens.

This is a barrier for new immigrants because it can take up to three years for them to become citizens. A possible solution is to follow the British government, where public servants are only required to be British residents, said Ratna Omidvar, executive director of the Maytree Foundation, a Toronto-based non-profit organization helping immigrants settle in Canada.

The French-language requirement presents a barrier for many newcomers, said Omidvar. She would like the commission to examine whether or not all jobs require a fluency in both English and French.

Another possible barrier to hiring visible minorities, especially those who are new Canadians, is a security check, said Linda Gobeil, vice-president of the Public Service Commission.

The security check process is a lengthy one, often going back several years into a person’s life. If the government has to go to another country to find the information, the process becomes even longer and often a hiring manager can’t hold a position open that long, she said.

The government’s poor performance on employment equity appears to be systemic. A performance report on employment equity, conducted by the Public Service Human Resource Management Agency of Canada, found only five government departments and agencies — the Public Service Commission, the Canadian International Development Agency, the Correctional Service of Canada, Health Canada and Canadian Heritage — had an acceptable rating for employment equity.

Four other departments — Fisheries and Oceans, the Canada School of the Public Service, Indian and Northern Affairs and the Courts Administration service — received the lowest rating of “requiring attention.” All other departments were rated as “needing improvement.”

The Public Service Commission has identified the job classifications for which visible minority representation is the lowest. These are: administrative services, clerical and regulatory, program administration, engineering and scientific support, economics and computer systems. In terms of location, the Ottawa region has the lowest representation of visible minorities.

Some solutions to the lack of visible minorities include increasing a manager’s accountability for hiring visible minorities and conducting anti-racism training at all levels of government, said PSAC’s Ducharme.

“The people making the decisions don’t necessarily walk the talk,” she said. “The lower-down managers don’t necessarily believe or buy into the principles of employment equity.”

She would also like to see the Public Service Commission be given the power to police government departments and agencies to ensure they’re meeting employment equity objectives.

To mobilize this kind of change, Maytree’s Omidvar would like to see a political leader stand up for visible minorities in the public sector the same way former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau did for francophones when he made French one of Canada’s official languages.

“There is no one in the federal government service or in our federal political system who is saying ‘Our federal public service does not reflect the face of Canada and we need to do something about it,’” she said. “Progress is not keeping pace with the reality.”

The Public Service Commission will release the study’s preliminary findings in its annual report in October, which will also be presented to Parliament.

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