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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 5, March 2006

Myth and reality: employment equity

Myth: Employment equity means treating everyone the same.
Reality: Employment equity means treating everyone with fairness, taking into account people’s differences.

Myth: Employment equity results in "reverse discrimination."
Reality: Employment equity means everyone has equal employment opportunities—not just a select group.

Employment equity is about eliminating barriers faced by certain groups in society.

Studies have shown that certain minority groups have been denied employment opportunities because of ethnicity, gender, or disability. Systemic barriers in employment practices may intentionally limit their opportunities. Employment equity is designed to eliminate barriers by identifying and adjusting employment systems to provide equal access and opportunity. Employment equity is a way of "catching up" on the effects of the past. It is remedial, not punitive.

Myth: Employment equity is all about quotas.
Reality: Quotas, which are part of the American approach, are explicitly prohibited by the Canadian Employment Equity Act.

An employment equity plan describes where you are today, where you want to be at a certain time, and how you intend to get there. Like an industrial production target, an employment equity plan reflects the organization’s circumstances and goals.

The process of setting goals does not mean people will lose their jobs to make room for designated group members. Goals are based on predicted new workplace opportunities.

Myth: Employment equity means hiring unqualified people.
Reality: Employment equity means providing all qualified and qualifiable individuals with equal employment opportunities—not just a select few.

The purpose of employment equity is to hire qualified candidates; it is not to hire unqualified workers just to reach some numerical goals.

Employment equity is not about putting someone in a job solely because she or he is a member of a designated group. Employment equity encourages the selection, hiring, training, promotion, and retention of qualified and qualifiable individuals. Employment equity simply ensures that barriers against persons in designated groups resulting from the employer’s systems, policies, and practices are identified and eliminated.

The Employment Equity Act specifically states that the obligation to implement employment equity does not require an employer to hire or promote unqualified individuals. The Act also ensures and emphasizes that hiring and promotion standards are not lowered in order to recruit employees from designated groups. Such practices would create a counterproductive work environment.

Myth: Employment equity threatens the seniority principle.
Reality: Employment equity and seniority share a common goal: to make sure that employment opportunities are fair, without favouritism or discrimination.

Seniority rights acquired as a result of provisions in a collective agreement, or acquired as a result of established practices of an employer, are protected under the Employment Equity Act passed in 1995. The Act specifically states that seniority provisions are deemed not to be employment barriers.

However, if it appears that the seniority provision in a collective agreement has an adverse impact on designated group members, the Act states that the employer and bargaining agent are required to consult on measures that may be taken to minimize the adverse impact.

Myth: Employment equity can only be implemented in a healthy economy.
Reality: Employment equity is a policy for both good and bad economic times.

Employment equity can be implemented in healthy economic times or during a downturn.

During tough economic times there certainly are fewer hiring and promotions, but employers still hire. Some turnover still occurs through retirement, death, maternity leave, voluntary and involuntary separations, and transfers. By using attrition, organizations can open up employment opportunities for members of the designated groups. It is even more important for employment equity to be developed and implemented during times of job scarcity, to ensure that available jobs are fairly and equitably distributed.

Besides hiring, promoting, and keeping designated group members in the workforce, employers have the challenge of accommodating the various needs of our population in a flexible manner. This, too, can be done during economic downturns while benefiting all employees in the organization.

– Christine Stewart

Source: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada web site, www.hrsdc.gc.ca. Adapted for the BCTF Employment Equity for Aboriginal Teachers’ workshop.

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