PSAC welcomes the creation of the task force charged with reviewing the federal Employment Equity Act (EEA). The EEA was introduced in 1986 to achieve equality in the workplace by allowing for proactive measures to eliminate barriers for — and address the underrepresentation of — historically disadvantaged equity-seeking groups in federally regulated workplaces. The act was expanded in 1995 to apply to the federal public service.
PSAC had been calling for a review of the act for nearly two decades. It is imperative that the EEA reflect the current reality faced by marginalized workers that have been, and continue to be, excluded or discriminated against in the workplace.
Worker representation lacking
PSAC is pleased that Marie Clarke Walker, former secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress, was named to the 13-member task force. However, it is very disappointing that unions representing federal workers were completely excluded. With more than 140,000 members in the federal public service, PSAC brings a deep understanding of the barriers facing workers from equity-seeking groups, and the shortcomings of the EEA.
In contrast, two employer representatives — one formerly from Canadian Pacific Railway and another previously with Treasury Board’s Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer — were named to the task force.
Short timelines unrealistic
Moreover, PSAC is concerned with the short timeline assigned to the task force. The final report must be issued in early 2022. Given that the EEA impacts nearly 1.5 million workers in the federal public service, Crown corporations, the Canadian Forces, and numerous federally regulated industries, this timeline may not give the task force sufficient time for meaningful consultations with all stakeholders.
With the exclusion of bargaining agents from the task force and the short timeline, it is likely that necessary reforms will be overlooked.
Improvements needed in the Employment Equity Act
Though it remains unclear how the task force will seek meaningful input from federal bargaining agents, PSAC will advocate strongly for improvements to the EEA. Specifically, stronger provisions are needed with respect to:
- the requirement of employers to consult and collaborate with unions and create joint employment equity committees;
- the monitoring, auditing and enforcement of employer obligations under the act by Employment and Social Development Canada and the Canadian Human Rights Commission;
- the role of federal central agencies (e.g., Public Service Commission and Treasury Board) to ensure accountability from government departments and agencies; and
- obligations for employers under the Federal Contractors Program.
PSAC will also push to:
- broaden the application of EEA provisions to non-federally regulated private firms (such as temp agencies) doing outsourced work for the federal government;
- update the current EEA terminology (e.g., visible minority, Aboriginal);
- include subgroups within each designated equity group to better understand which specific subgroups are experiencing barriers to employment opportunities (this will require better census data collection);
- include the LGBTQ2+ community as a designated group in the act.