The Employment Equity Act: A short paper evaluating the success of the Act. Canada has a population of approximately twenty six million people. With the introduction of the federal government’s multicultualism program, the social demographic make up of Canada is quite vast, bringing together people from many different nations to join those already living here. Taking the population as a whole into account, it is no secret that historically, certain members of this social order have been denied fair access to employment system.
The federal and provincial governments had undertaken steps to address the issue through a wide range of programs such as equal employment and other affirmative action programs to “promote equal opportunity in the public service for segments of the population that have historically been underrepresented there.” Today those designated groups, underrepresented in the labour force include women, Aboriginal peoples, disabled people, and persons who are, because of their race or colour, is a visible minority in Canada.
In October 1984, Judge Rosalie Silberman Abella submitted a Royal Commission Report on equality in employment (the Abella Report) to the federal government. “The Commission was established in recognition of the fact that women, visible minorities, the handicapped and native peoples were being denied the full benefits of employment.” Based on the findings of the Abella Commission, the federal government implemented “The Employment Equity Act” in 1986. This short paper will evaluate the success of the “Act” and will argue that although some progress has been made, the Canadian Labour force still does not reflect the demographic composition of Canada as the Act had targeted.
For the purposes of implementing Employment Equity, certain individuals or groups who are at an employment disadvantage are designated to benefit from Employment Equity. The Employment Equity Act describes the designated groups as “women, aboriginal peoples; Indians, Inuit or Metis, who so identify themselves to their employer, or agree to be so identified by an employer, for the purposes of the Employment Equity Act. Persons with disabilities; are people who, because of any persistent physical, mental, psychiatric, sensory or learning impairment, believe that they are potentially disadvantaged in employment, and who so identify themselves to an employer, or agree to be so identified by an employer, for the purposes of the Act. Members of visible minorities are persons, other than aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour, and who so identify themselves to an employer, or agree to be so identified by an employer, for the purpose of the Act.” The designated groups, in particular women, have essentially been discriminated against for a substantial period of time. A 1977 study of women in federal Crown Corporations conducted by the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, reported that the federal government is the largest employer in Canada, with almost 40% of it’s employee’s (excluding the Army) employed by federal Crown Corporations. At that time, employees of Crown Corporations were not subject to the Public Service Employee Act, which prohibited discrimination in all aspects of employment including personnel hiring and promotion. The study showed that women made up 37% of the Canadian labour force population and 33% of federal public service employee population. However, only 15.4% of the total employee population of federal Crown Corporations were female. The underrepresentation of women in federal Crown Corporations are clearly evident in the two charts indicated below. According to the 1981 census, women were at a disadvantage in a number of ways. In comparison to men, women have higher unemployment rates, lower participation rates and are concentrated in lower paying jobs, regardless of their level of education. Company Men Women % of Women CN 71,369 4,434 5.9 Air Canada 14,867 6,073 29.6 CBC 8,015 3,094 27 Atomic Energy Canada 5,000 778 13.5 Cape Breton Development 3,822 78 2.0 Number of men and women working for Crown Corporations in 1977 Company Men Women % of Women CN 1,014 2 0.2 Air Canada 158 1 0.6 CBC 116 2 1.7 Atomic Energy Canada 78 0 0 Cape Breton Development N/A N/A N/A Number of men and women in senior management There is also evidence that the other designated groups were at a disadvantage to fair access to employment. Studies have shown that aboriginal peoples, have significantly lower participation rates and higher unemployment rates than those generally experienced in the Canadian labour force. They also have significantly lower levels of education and are paid lower average salaries. The 1981 census indicate that “of the total aboriginal population, 50.4% worked in the Canadian labour force in 1981.” Persons with disabilities have also been at a disadvantage in the Canadian labour force. Like the aboriginal people, they too have higher unemployment rates, lower participation rates and lower levels of education. 1981 census statistics for disabled person in the labour force were not readily available, however it has been suggested that whatever the figure was, between “1984 and 1986 their participation in the labour force had increase by 11%.” Although members of visible minority groups have relatively high levels of education and relatively high participation rates, they are generally concentrated in particular occupational groups The Abella Commission found that the essence of the problem with respect to why women and the other designated groups were not reaping the full potential benefits from their participation in the labour force was “systemic” in nature. In other words, “the prevailing socio-economic system in which all Canadians worked had a set of social and political values and institutions in place which often unintentionally discriminated against these groups.” The Abella Commission harboured the opinion that the discriminating systemic barriers could only be eliminated through systemic remedies, thus, “comprehensive programs had to be adopted and put in place to enable target groups to overcome the systemic barriers of employment. . . . . . . . .and that a new term ’employment equity’ be adopted to describe programs of positive remedy for discrimination in the workplace.” In 1986, the federal government passed the Employment Equity Act. The Act required that all “federally regulated employers with 100 or more employees to implement equity programs and provide for minimal commitments on the part of employers to file bare census information on their work force with the Canada Employment and Immigration Commission and to develop their own defined employment equity program to remedy systemic discrimination.” On September 1, during the same year, the federal government implemented the Federal Contractors Employment Equity Program, requiring that all contractors with 100 employees or more, tendering for goods and services with the federal government to implement employment equity within their organization. The Acts essentially aimed at making the demographic characteristics of the Canadian labour force to be representative of the demographic base of Canada. “In it’s full sense, employment equity is a comprehensive planning process designed to bring about not only equality of opportunity but equality in results. Its primary objective is to ensure that the Canadian work force is an accurate reflection of the composition of the Canadian population given the availability of required skills. This objective is essentially an ethical goal based on the value of ensuring equity.” Although some progress has been made since the enactment of the Employment Equity Act, to date the target groups are still underrepresented in the labour force, in addition there are other difficulties facing these groups in relation to the Act. Provisions were made in the Act requiring mandatory reporting of progress in the companies affected by the Act (all federally regulated companies with more than 100 employees). From the information provided by these companies, which approximates 350, the Minister of Employment and Immigration Canada is required to compile an annual report, to analyse and monitor the progress of the Act and to ensure compliance. Although annual reports exist from 1987 to 1992, while researching this paper, only the reports for 1989, 1990 and 1992 were readily available for examination. As such is the case, only the data contained in these reports wsill be used in this paper. The 1989 report indicated their had been an increase over the previous year in representation in the work force by each target group. Women increased their representation from 40.90% to 42.12%. Aboriginal peoples increased their representation from 0.66% to 0.73%. Persons with disabilities increased their representation from 1.59% to 1.71% and members of visible minorities increased their representation from 4.99% to 5.69%. Of the women employees that had to be reported by employees under the Act, they constituted 42.12% of the work force. This constituted a 1.22% increase over the previous year. Their representation under the act remained lower than their representation in the Canadian labour force which is 44%. Aboriginal peoples in the work force under the Act increased very slightly in the same period and remained underrepresented. They represented 0.73% of the work force under the Act compared with 2.1% representation in the Canadian labour force. 10,289 persons with disabilities were reported by employers and constituted 1.71% of all employees reported under the Act. Like the women and the aboriginal peoples, they too remained underrepresented in each province for which employees provided a report. A slight increase in representation was reported for the visible minority group, however, the report indicated that despite the increase, they remained underrepresented in the work force under the Employment Equity Act. The 1992 Annual Report shows that two of the four target groups exceeded representation in the work force under the Act, compared to representation in the Canadian labour force. Both the women and visible minority groups achieved this mark, however the aboriginal peoples and persons of disability remained underrepresented in the work force under the Act. Women increased their representation to 44.11% which is about the same now as it was for the Canadian labour force (44%) at the time of the 1986 Census. Aboriginal peoples increased to 0.96%. The representation of persons with disabilities increased from 2.39% in the previous year to 2.50%. And Visible minorities increased to 7.55%, slightly higher than it was for the Canadian labour force (6.3%) at the time of the 1986 census. Though the government may want to pat themselves on the back and claim partial success of the program, in reflecting on the achievements of the women and visible minority target groups, there is a concern that factors other than the Act may have influence the rise in the participation rate of these two groups. In occupations that were traditionally male dominated, i.e.: lawyers and notary publics etc., women have been slowly but gradually playing catch up. This is in part due to the fact that more and more women are graduating from university. In 1987, Canadian universities granted more than 103,000 degrees at the bachelor level. This number represented growth of more than 21 % from 1981. Female graduates out numbered male graduates for the seventh year in a row and by 1987 accounted for 53% of those receiving bachelor’s degrees. The question then is did the doors to accessible employment open to women because of the Employment Equity Act or did the women provide access for themselves by attending university. Unless there is some equity program in place for university attendance, it would be unreasonable to summize that the Employment Equity program was the sole vehicle for allowing women fair access into the workplace. But even still, there is no real success to speak of. Although gaps are being closer to being closed, women are still underrepresented in some occupations such as upper level managerial positions and overrepresented in traditionally female occupations. For example, under the Act women comprise 0.21% of upper level managers compared to 1.53% of men. And they comprise 60.97% of clerical workers compared to 14.59% of men. Much of the indicators are similar for that of the visible minority groups. As indicated previously, there are other problems associated with the Act. Complaints have be raised from “public servants and from their unions that the equal opportunity programs violate the merit principle and discriminate against candidates outside the target groups for appointment and promotion.” White males in particular feel that they have become victims of reverse discrimination. As such problems occur when they retaliate against the system by employing candidates in the target group who are sometimes not competent for the position hired, in an attempt at hindering that persons oppotunities for advancement within the company. Another problem that becomes present is that when a qualified candidate in a target group is promoted, concerns are raised among those outside the target group, that the candidate did not excel because of his or her merit but rather, because of the affiliation to one of the target groups. Employment equity was initially seen as good social policy. Most people would agree that it is unjust and unacceptable for a society to have individuals facing barriers to employment opportunities for reasons unrelated to ability. These people were underemployed because they are women, aboriginal peoples, members of visible minorities, or persons with disabilities. Despite the governments efforts to address the issue, and although some gains have been made, there is still a significant number in the target groups that still face the systemic barriers. Perhaps the government has not done enough to change the status quo. Perhaps allowing the employers to set their own goals and time tables was an error and should be reviewed. But given the data presented thus far in their own annual reports and the continuous controversy surrounding the issue, the Employment Equity act as far as I am concern has only partially attained its goal. BIBLIOGRAPHY Kernagan,K et al, Public Administration in Canada Scarborough, Ontario, Nelson Canada 1991 Kelly, John G. Human Resource Management and the Human Rights Process Canada, CHH Canadian Limited 1991 Annual Report: The Employment Equity Act. 1989, 1990, 1992 Ottawa, Ministry of supply and Services Canada