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Executive Summary

The Employment Equity Act requires the federal public service to implement employment equity measures to “correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities” and “to achieve equality in the workplace”. Since 2004, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights (“the Committee”) has retained an on-going order of reference to monitor issues of discrimination in the hiring and promotion practices of the federal public service and to study the extent to which targets to achieve employment equity are being met. The Committee has produced two previous reports in the course of this study:

On 26 October 2011, the Senate adopted a motion for the Committee to undertake a follow-up study on employment equity. Six meetings were held between October 2011 and May 2013. In the report resulting from this study, Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service: Staying Vigilant for Equality, the Committee examines the progress that has been made and the challenges that remain in reaching employment equity goals. One indicator of progress is that women, Aboriginal people and persons with disabilities are now better represented in the federal public service than their workforce availability and visible minorities are now only slightly under-represented. However, a number of indicators, particularly at senior levels, are not as positive. Given that many of this Committee’s key observations made in Reflecting the Changing Faces of Canada can still be made again today, we continue to stand behind the 13 recommendations we made in that report. 

Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service: Staying Vigilant for Equality examines the changes resulting from the creation of the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO) in 2009 and recent workforce adjustment processes and their impact on employment equity, as well as data collection and analysis challenges and the advocacy being done on the topic of employment equity.

Current statistics on employment equity broken down by employment equity group are examined in Chapter Two: The Current Appointment and Representation Rates. Current statistics reveal that Aboriginal peoples are applying to, being appointed to and are represented in the federal public service at a rate that is higher than their workforce availability. However, they are also overrepresented in the lowest salary ranges and underrepresented in senior management. Aboriginal peoples are also concentrated in departments serving Aboriginal peoples. The report further notes that Aboriginal employees are leaving the federal public service at a greater rate than they are being hired.

The report notes that persons with disabilities are represented in the federal public service at a number that is higher than their workforce availability, though they continue to apply and to be appointed at a lower rate through the Public Service Commission (PSC) and hired at a lower rate as per the most recent hiring statistics in the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) annual report. In Reflecting the Changing Face of Canada, the Committee expressed concern that these low appointment rates suggest that federal departments and agencies may be reaching their employment equity targets for persons with disabilities through reliance on the demographics of aging, rather than seeking to actively recruit such persons. Though this remains a concern, witnesses were unable to confirm whether this hypothesis is accurate at the hearings for this study as the phenomenon is not sufficiently understood. The Committee heard from witnesses about various challenges faced by persons with disabilities in the public service including a lack of accommodation. On the positive side, we heard about efforts being made to recruit and retain employees with disabilities and to provide tools and training on accommodation.

Overall, the representation of visible minority groups has improved since Reflecting the Changing Face of Canada was tabled in 2010. The rate of promotion of visible minorities is higher than their representation in the public service and they are leaving the federal public service at a lower rate than they are being hired.  Despite these improvements, visible minorities remain underrepresented in higher level positions and salary categories and are slightly overrepresented in the lower salary categories.

Though women are represented at a greater rate in the federal public service than their workforce availability, they are still lagging behind men in terms of being appointed to executive and high-salary positions and are still largely clustered in certain occupations and departments. They remain concentrated in administrative support jobs, generally hold lower-paying jobs than men and are over-represented in term appointments.

Chapter 3: Observations Concerning Current Statistics and the Monitoring and Evaluation of Hiring Practices outlines a number of issues with the employment equity data that affect the ability to analyse, monitor and evaluate progress to date. The workforce availability data currently being used is from the 2006 Census and there is concern that it may no longer be accurate and that more reliable workforce availability statistics are needed for comparison. Another challenge discussed in Chapter 3 is the inability to confirm the accuracy of the representation rates gained from the self-identification surveys of existing employees and of the appointment rates gained from the self-declaration surveys of new candidates for employment, which form the basis of the representation and appointment rate figures. Witnesses told the Committee that many employees in the visible minority group fear that such information may be used against them. Study of this issue is ongoing within the federal public service to better understand the barriers to self-identification and self-declaration.

In Reflecting the Changing Face of Canada, the Committee recommended that the PSC provide statistics on recruitment rates for employment equity groups for the percentage of jobs that are not publicly advertised. Although the Public Service Commission’s 2011-2012 Annual Report does not provide the recruitment rates for the four designated groups to non-advertised positions, the use of non-advertised processes decreased slightly between the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 fiscal years. Though there has been some concern that non-advertised appointments were less representative of employment equity groups, the Committee was told that some managers are actually using non-advertised appointments to meet employment equity objectives. Aboriginal peoples and persons with disabilities are better represented in non-advertised appointments, though this is not the case for visible minorities. The impact of contracting out on employment equity objectives is also discussed in Chapter 3.

The Committee heard that federal public service employers can meet their Employment Equity Act obligations without actually having a representative workforce. Chapter 3 addresses the issue of discrimination in the federal public service, recognising that there is debate as to whether it is a question of isolated incidents or a more systemic issue. In Reflecting the Changing Face of Canada, the Committee reported on problems with discrimination in the federal public service. Despite the Government of Canada’s various efforts to deal with discrimination in the federal public service, this remains an important priority.

The final section of Chapter 3 examines the impact of workforce adjustment on employment equity. The testimony of witnesses on this point was mixed and labour union representatives informed the Committee that they did not have access to adequate information to assess the impact of workforce adjustment measures. 

The chapter ends with the Committee’s recommendation that the federal government support greater monitoring and evaluation to achieve employment equity in the federal public service. This requires better tracking, development and collection of employment-related data by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and for more information on this topic to be made available to the public. Examples of data that would be of use are provided. 

Chapter 4: Observations Concerning Employment Equity Advocacy and Employee Participation examines the role of the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO), of employees and of certain committees in advocating for employment equity. The OCHRO was created in 2009 and is responsible for the broad framework, while deputy heads are now responsible for implementing equity and diversity in their own departments. While the Committee has heard from the OCHRO about its efforts in providing guidance on employment equity for deputy heads, and although the Treasury Board’s annual report does provide some indication of how departments and agencies are faring with regard to meeting overall employment equity targets, we believe that there needs to be a stronger accountability mechanism to provide an incentive to managers to meet employment equity targets. In Reflecting the Changing Face of Canada, the Committee recommended the “swift publication and effective implementation of the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer’s updated employment equity policy,” and we continue to think that this would be beneficial in holding departments accountable for their employment equity results.

In Chapter 4, the Committee also notes the advantages of greater management involvement in the new structure of Employment Equity Champions and Chairs Committees for Aboriginal Peoples, visible minorities and persons with disabilities as opposed to their predecessor National Employment Equity Councils which were employee-focused. A number of witnesses found that the committees are working well. However, other witnesses noted that, in the transition, a venue for employee-driven initiatives and open dialogue for employees outside the union and management context was lost. The Committee recommends that mechanisms and safeguards be created to ensure that federal public service employees are able to freely voice their employment equity concerns and organise solutions together. These could be established as part of the existing model for the Chairs and Champions Committees or as something separate. The Committee also recommends that an Employment Equity Champions and Chairs Committee for women be created given that full employment equity for this group has also not yet been realized. 

In conclusion, the Committee has learned that much progress has been made in achieving employment equity goals over the years that the Committee has been studying this issue but there is still work to be done to ensure that Canadians have a federal public service that is truly representative of them at all levels.