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Bureaucrats still working on diversity in public service

By Jessica Bruno      
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While women, aboriginal peoples, visible minorities and people with disabilities may be working in the public service in greater numbers than ever before, employment equity is still “not a reality” in the federal public service, say Senators and bureaucrats.

“In 2010–11, Canada’s public service was more representative of our diverse population than ever before, with all employment equity groups participating in greater numbers in the public service,” said Treasury Board President Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.) in the government’s report on employment equity in the public service, tabled Feb. 10.

“The employment equity act came into place in 1986, it’s been 26 years now and we are still struggling with representation,” said Liberal British Columbia Senator Mobina Jaffer. 

Sen. Jaffer chairs the Senate Committee on Human Rights, which has been studying employment equity in the public service for several years. The group met Feb. 13 with union and government officials. 

While women, aboriginal peoples, and persons with disabilities are in the public service at rates higher than their availability in the workforce, visible minorities are still under-represented. 

Further, all four groups are still under-represented in the topmost levels of public service.

In the executive class, 44.9 per cent of employees are women, 3.8 per cent are aboriginal peoples, 5.4 per cent are persons with disabilities and 7.8 per cent are part of a visible minority group.  

It is also still a reality that women are grouped in lower-paid administrative positions, while aboriginal peoples are clustered in three departments: Aboriginal Affairs, the Correctional Service and Human Resources, noted Sen. Jaffer.

Visible minorities are the fastest-growing equity group in the public sector, and have been for the past 15 years, according to Treasury Board’s Chief Human Resources Officer Daphne Meredith. But their representation stands at 11.3 per cent in the civil service, compared to 12 per cent in the labour market.

At the Human Rights committee last week, Senators from both parties posited a number of potential fixes and questioned the government on what it has been doing to address the situation.

Nova Scotia Conservative Sen. Donald Oliver said he wondered whether a commissioner on visible minorities would be an effective way to hold departments to account for meeting their hiring targets. He also wanted to know whether the Treasury Board Secretariat, the department responsible for the public service, had implemented any of the 13 recommendations from the committee’s 2010 report, called Reflecting the Changing Face of Canada: Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service.

Ms. Meredith said she’d get back to him, but the response from another witness, Patty Ducharme, national executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, was unequivocal. 

She said that after the Senate committee’s 2010 report, she met with then Public Service Commission head Maria Barrados and Ms. Meredith, who assured her they supported the recommendations.

“Since then the Treasury Board has not addressed the recommendations for a new employment equity policy,” she said. 

The Treasury Board, the Public Service Commission, and the Canadian Human Rights Commission are responsible for the employment equity policy.

Ms. Meredith noted that the Treasury Board Secretariat created an interdepartmental network on employee equity in 2009-2010. Ms. Meredith explained the system is based on departmental responsibilities rather than a top-down approach from TBS. 

In September 2011, the public service also switched to a system of departmental champions and committee chairs for each of the designated groups. The departmental chairs and champions then come together and meet with a responsible deputy minister champion. 

“These committees will permit better and more direct access for employees to employment equity Deputy Minister Champions and departmental management, who are in the best position to act on recommendations,” according to the employment equity report.  

Sen. Jaffer said that she is concerned that under the new system, deputy ministers could appoint champions whom they can “manage” rather than being a strong voice for their communities. 

Ms. Meredith said that the system was still too new to draw conclusions. 

Ms. Ducharme suggested that the government tie some of the performance pay of executives to their work on employment equity. 

Some of the problems facing public servants from visible minorities include subtle racism, slow or no recognition of foreign credentials, and the need for language training, said Ms. Ducharme. 

Workers perceive discrimination as a problem in the federal government: 14 per cent of respondents said they were the victims of discrimination at work, down from 18 per cent in 2008. This is the first decline in reported discrimination since 2002. 

Of the 25,985 people who said they experienced discrimination, 42 per cent said the perpetrators were co-workers, while 16 per cent said it was someone in a position of authority. 

The most reported type of discrimination was based on age (44 per cent) or sex (43 per cent). Discrimination based on national or ethnic origin, or race, affected about one-third of those discriminated against.

How departments handled harassment and discrimination was satisfactory to 61 per cent of respondents, down from 63 per cent in 2008.

But to the statement that everyone “regardless of race, colour, gender or disability” would be accepted in the workplace 88 per cent of public servants surveyed agreed.

jbruno@hilltimes.com

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