Unions call on Ottawa to drop challenge of Black public servants’ planned discrimination lawsuit

Predictable call:

Unions representing more than three million workers are urging the federal government to drop its challenge of a proposed class-action lawsuit brought by Black federal public servants alleging racial discrimination in the federal public service.

The Canadian Labour Congress, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada told a joint news conference on Monday that the federal government doesn’t have grounds to continue its court challenge.

“Now is the time for the federal government to step up and do the right thing,” said Larry Rousseau, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress, the country’s largest labour organization.

The proposed lawsuit — launched in 2020 — alleges Black public servants have endured decades of systemic racism and discrimination. The lawsuit alleges that since the 1970s, roughly 30,000 Black employees have lost out on opportunities and benefits afforded to others because of their race.

It seeks $2.5 billion in compensation for economic hardship and a mental health plan for employees’ pain and trauma. Plaintiffs also want a plan to diversify the federal labour pool.

The need for the federal government to withdraw its challenge became more urgent, the unions argue, after it concluded recently that the Canadian Human Rights Commission had discriminated against its Black and racialized employees.

The Canadian government’s human resources arm, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, came to that conclusion after nine employees filed a policy grievance through their unions in October 2020.

Their grievance alleged that “Black and racialized employees at the CHRC (Canadian Human Rights Commission) face systemic anti-Black racism, sexism and systemic discrimination.”

“This ruling by the government confirms that workers cannot turn to the commission for redress, and it is harming its workers,” said Nicholas Marcus Thompson, executive director of the Black Class Action Secretariat.

“As a matter of fact, its workers have told Canadians not to turn to the commission because it is a toxic workplace. And their race-based complaint is likely to be rejected.”

A group of current and former commission employees who spoke to CBC News said they’d noticed all-white investigative teams at the Canadian Human Rights Commission were dismissing complaints from Black and other racialized Canadians at a higher rate.

Canada’s human rights commission admits it has dismissed a large number of complaints about racism, with numbers showing the commission dismissed a higher percentage of race-based claims than it did others between 2018 and 2021.

Numbers the commission provided to the CBC back up the argument that the commission has a high dismissal rate for human rights complaints based on race.

CBC has requested interviews with the CHRC’s executive director, Ian Fine, and interim chief commissioner, Charlotte-Anne Malischewski. The commission has declined those requests because it says the matter is in mediation. CBC also reached out to Justice Minister David Lametti’s office for comment.

Grievance process won’t address the problem: unions

At Monday’s press conference, the unions acknowledged that the labour grievance and appeals process isn’t the place for Black civil servants to seek justice.

The union heads said the process can’t settle claims for Black employees who have left the public service. The grievance system also can’t address claims about stalled career paths, they said.

One union head added that the body that adjudicates grievances, the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board, could take five to six years to make a decision.

The board also offers solutions to individual complaints — it can’t address systemic discrimination affecting the entire public service, said Jennifer Carr, the national president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

“That’s why the class action is important because it’s going to force the government to do those systemic changes that we can’t get through any other means,” Carr said.

Source: Unions call on Ottawa to drop challenge of Black public servants’ planned discrimination lawsuit

Latif: Looking for a promotion? You may not get one if you are BIPOC in Canada

Of note, focussing on the public service, rather than broader society.

The public service figure of only 1.6 percent of executives being Black ignores the fact that Chinese EX are also only 1.6 percent and most other visible minority groups have lower representation.

While the “government is simply not doing enough or moving fast enough,”  one also needs to acknowledge the extent to which the public service at all levels has become more diverse following the Employment Equity Act and how reporting has improved through disaggregated data for visible minority and other groups:

Imagine being stuck in the same position for 30 years with no upward movement, despite having consistently good performance reviews and upscaling your learning with advanced degrees. Wouldn’t that inequity have a negative effect on your mental health and well-being?

Well, this is a reality for many Canadians of colour. 

2021 Edelman survey on business and racial justice in Canada found that a majority of those surveyed (about 56 per cent) have either witnessed or experienced racism in their organization. 

What makes this so concerning is that we have both federal and provinciallegislation that prohibits this type of discrimination. For example, the Ontario Human Rights Commission clearly states that every person has “a right to equal treatment in employment without discrimination because of race.” 

Racial discrimination can happen at either the individual or systemic level. At the individual level, biases lead to decisions about who is invited and valued; at the systemic/structural level, existing policies and practices in an organization can continue to perpetuate racial inequities.

This has many serious implications. Even after 400 years, Black Canadians are still not granted equal participation in society, and this extends to the workforce. For example, there is a disproportionate underrepresentation in management positions for Black federal public service employees, with only 1.6 per cent of Black workers in executive roles. It’s a staggering figure. A class-action lawsuit was filed in 2020 on behalf of Black federal employees, seeking long-term solutions to address systemic racism and discrimination in the Public Service of Canada. 

Remember the scenario I mentioned in the beginning? Kofi Achampong, a strategic and government relations adviser to the Black Class Action Group, echoed this unfortunate situation in an interview with me. He said scenarios like these “have many implications — loss of income, pension calculations and certainly the mental health toll.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has publicly acknowledged existing inequities, committing to “a better future for Black Canadians, a future where they experience full and equal participation in society across political, social and economic life.” But Achampong finds that government is simply not doing enough or moving fast enough. 

“The government has a positive obligation as an employer to address these kinds of issues in the workplace,” said Achampong. “If you know for a fact — and they’ve known for decades — that we aren’t recruiting diverse people, especially at senior levels, then we have to examine who is getting interviews, who is ultimately getting hired or appointed, and ask: Have we taken appropriate corrective action? To be fair, it’s not just the federal government. Successive governments across the country and jurisdictions have long known about these issues, and have done little to nothing. It’s really a form of negligence that’s completely inconsistent with the Canada we’re trying to create and the wealth of diverse talent that exists in this country.” 

The lack of upward employment mobility in racial groups is troublesome. This risks the continuation of generational poverty within our communities: We keep people — especially Black people — down, and prevent them from seeking better opportunities to elevate their social and economic positions in society.

Tomorrow marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Government statements of solidarity are not enough; Canada is still failing to achieve equality and equity in the workplace. Marking the day with statements acknowledging the discrimination Indigenous Peoples, racialized communities and religious minorities face in Canada every day is important. However, if governments and organizations do not provide tangible change, these are simply words dying a slow death on paper.

Source: Looking for a promotion? You may not get one if you are BIPOC in Canada