Canada must address systemic racism and discrimination in the workforce

March 21, 2024

As we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, Canada’s unions call on the federal government to take immediate, concrete action to address racism within our workforce. This starts with updating the Employment Equity Act by implementing the Employment Equity Task Force’s recommended reforms.

The Employment Equity Act represents a critical tool in our efforts to combat racism in the workplace and address the inequities experienced by Black, Indigenous, and racialized workers. Enacted to promote equality and eliminate discriminatory barriers in employment in federally-regulated workplaces, the Act provides a framework for employers to proactively address systemic inequities and ensure fair representation for all groups, including Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, women, and racialized people – designated groups under the current Act.

While the Employment Equity Act lays the foundation for progress, much work remains to be done to fully realize its potential, which can be achieved through its modernization. The recently released Employment Equity Review Task Force report, which came after consultations with numerous stakeholders, including Canada’s unions, provides a number of recommendations to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of the Act, including measures to address systemic racism and discrimination in hiring, promotion, and retention practices.

“We stand firm in our commitment to combat systemic racism and discrimination in the labour market, to ensure a future where every individual is treated with dignity, respect, and equality,” said CLC Executive Vice-President Larry Rousseau. “The recommendations put forth by the Task Force offer an important opportunity to eradicate existing deep-seated inequities and prevent future ones, which is absolutely essential to addressing systemic racism and ensuring Black, Indigenous, and racialized workers are no longer being left out in the cold. This is how we build a society free from discrimination, racism, and prejudice.”

The Task Force recommendations include investing in targeted initiatives to support the recruitment, training, and advancement of underrepresented groups in the workforce, as well as ensuring robust enforcement mechanisms to hold employers accountable for compliance with the Act.

Addressing racism and discrimination in the labour market is paramount to achieving fairness for all workers. Racial income gaps persist, as Indigenous, Black, and racialized workers continue to face barriers to employment opportunities, discriminatory hiring practices, unequal pay, and limited opportunities for advancement. Failure to address these inequities will only result in further exacerbation of the issues faced by these workers and perpetuate their exclusion from full and fair participation in the workforce.

Canada’s unions also have a role to play by taking proactive measures to advance employment equity within our own organizations. This includes removing barriers to equal opportunity and fair treatment, making employment equity part of the bargaining agenda, and ensuring that those most affected are on bargaining committees. Other measures include raising awareness among their members about the importance of employment equity, educating staff and leadership on the issue, and establishing accountability mechanisms for monitoring progress on employment equity within their organizations. Lastly, it is crucial for unions to advocate for policies and initiatives that advance employment equity, including a strengthened Employment Equity Act.

Read the full report from the Employment Equity Review Task Force here.

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