Employment Equity

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): – Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today on behalf of the New Democrats in response to the minister’s comments as a result of the tabling of the Employment Equity Act annual report. This is the 20th anniversary of this important legislation. We have learned that diversity in the workplace makes us strong.

I agree with other members who have said that to have legislation that lays out clear objectives and goals to ensure that the federal government is a major employer but also a federally regulated employer are actually meeting obligations for employment equity but diversity in the workplace is something that is important. It is not just something that can be done on a voluntary basis through goodwill. It has to be an established practice with rules, regulations and consequences. That has basically been what the Employment Equity Act has been about.

I was fortunate to participate in the previous five year review at the HRSDC committee. It was an interesting process and I learned a lot of things. One thing I learned is that, in actual fact, some of the private sector employers have done very well, like banks and airlines, because they have actually recognized from a business point of view the importance of having diversity in the workplace. Having women, visible minorities, aboriginal people, and persons with disabilities in the workplace actually provides them with a better capacity to serve a diverse population, their own clientele. It was quite remarkable to see that large, federally regulated employers were making great advances.

Advances have also been made by the federal government in its very strict requirements about meeting obligations. However, a lot of work still needs to be done. This issue requires constant education within the workplace. There are still barriers, stereotypes and things that discriminate against visible minorities, women, persons with disabilities and aboriginal people. We must be constantly vigilant. It cannot just be an annual report. We need a process within the workplace to deal with systemic discrimination and the barriers that exist.

I would point out that there are some things that are very concerning. For example, as a result of some studies we know that approximately 25% of applications to the federal government are from visible minorities. However, the appointment rate is at about 10%. We also know that the number of minorities who leave is much higher.

There are some real issues in terms of what happens, one, in terms of people being hired and that barriers still exist and, two, what happens to people once they are within the public service with regard to promotions and discrimination that may not be overt but which is what we consider to be systemic discrimination.

The other thing that will be very critical in this review is to ensure there is a meaningful role and dialogue with unions that represent their members in the workplace. This was an issue in the last five year review. PSAC and other unions are dedicated and committed to employment equity and it is important to ensure they are fully involved in this review, in this process and in the ongoing practice of the implementation and enforcement of this act.

Employment equity, in its broadest terms, also deals with the issue of pay equity. I would note for the minister that we are still waiting to see the long awaited pay equity legislation. We know a report was tabled two years ago. This is a huge issue for women within the public service and women generally. We want to ensure the pay equity report is implemented by way of legislation because it is a critical component of employment equity.

Finally, in a broad policy context, as the member from the Bloc raised, if we want to talk about women’s participation in the workforce, we need to address the issues of what it means to face a lack of child care accessibility and extraordinarily high child care costs.

We cannot divorce these issues. They are integral to the equality of women in our country. They are integral to employment equity. If our workplace is to be truly diverse and represent a qualified work pool, then we have to provide the resources and the supports that allow women to fully participate in the workforce.

Those are just some of the issues that we would flag. We are glad the report has been tabled. We look forward to the review at the committee and we will participate fully in it. We hope to strengthen and improve the federal government’s employment equity act and make it a real tool of leadership that employers can follow to ensure there is fairness, justice and equity in the workplace.