Labour needs to step up on employment equity


There are two issues that are not really grounded in the current public discussion on the Conservative government’s proposed review of employment equity in the national civil service. The two matters are the question of race and structural racism and the role of labour unions and the collective bargaining process.

I hope that there will be no delusion that race and the privileging of Whiteness are at the heart of the federal Conservatives’ attack on employment equity. Minister Jason Kenney singled out “race and ethnicity” as the basis for his support of the re-examination of employment equity.

It is quite instructive that he would have taken this position given the fact that racialized workers are the only ones among the designated groups that are underrepresented in the federal public service. Isn’t this review a move to keep racialized workers at the back of the bus and place them in the unenviable position of looking up from the bottom of the well?

Statistics Canada has projected that racialized people will make up between 29 per cent and 32 per cent of the national population by 2031. The entrenching of discriminatory barriers in the labour market flies in the face of the increasing presence of racialized workers in the labour force.

The labour movement needs to step up and become a vocal, principled and willing advocate for employment equity throughout the workplaces of this country. Labour cannot claim that it is the voice of the working class, but demonstrate through action that it will not boldly and fearlessly work at eliminating racist and other employment barriers in the labour market.

Organized labour must do two things. It must ensure that its own workforce is representative of the society in which it operates. Labour unions should be ashamed of the job that they are doing in removing barriers for racialized workers within its staff.

Trade unions must negotiate full-fledged employment equity plans into the collective agreement with targets and timelines on hiring, training and development, promotion and retention rates. It is quite clear that a vague, progressive-sounding clause on employment equity is just a way for unions and the employers to not do anything once the contract has been signed. An employment equity plan in the legal document (employment contract) provides a mechanism to hold the union and the employer accountable. There should also be language on the commitment of resources and accountability measures with respect to the managers to ensure the success of the program.

Ajamu Nangwaya is a trade unionist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto.


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