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Essay/Term paper: The employment equity act: a short paper evaluating the success of the act.

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The Employment Equity Act: A Short Paper Evaluating The Success of the Act.

Canada has a population of approximately twenty six million people.
With the introduction of the federal government's multicultualism program, the
social demographic make up of Canada is quite vast, bringing together people
from many different nations to join those already living here. Taking the
population as a whole into account, it is no secret that historically, certain
members of this social order have been denied fair access to employment system.
The federal and provincial governments had undertaken steps to address the issue
through a wide range of programs such as equal employment and other affirmative
action programs to "promote equal opportunity in the public service for segments
of the population that have historically been underrepresented there." Today
those designated groups, underrepresented in the labour force include women,
Aboriginal peoples, disabled people, and persons who are, because of their race
or colour, is a visible minority in Canada. In October 1984, Judge Rosalie
Silberman Abella submitted a Royal Commission Report on equality in employment
(the Abella Report) to the federal government. "The Commission was established
in recognition of the fact that women, visible minorities, the handicapped and
native peoples were being denied the full benefits of employment." Based on
the findings of the Abella Commission, the federal government implemented "The
Employment Equity Act" in 1986. This short paper will evaluate the success of
the "Act" and will argue that although some progress has been made, the Canadian
Labour force still does not reflect the demographic composition of Canada as the
Act had targeted.
For the purposes of implementing Employment Equity, certain individuals
or groups who are at an employment disadvantage are designated to benefit from
Employment Equity. The Employment Equity Act describes the designated groups as
"women, aboriginal peoples; Indians, Inuit or Metis, who so identify themselves
to their employer, or agree to be so identified by an employer, for the purposes
of the Employment Equity Act. Persons with disabilities; are people who,
because of any persistent physical, mental, psychiatric, sensory or learning
impairment, believe that they are potentially disadvantaged in employment, and
who so identify themselves to an employer, or agree to be so identified by an
employer, for the purposes of the Act. Members of visible minorities are
persons, other than aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-
white in colour, and who so identify themselves to an employer, or agree to be
so identified by an employer, for the purpose of the Act."
The designated groups, in particular women, have essentially been
discriminated against for a substantial period of time. A 1977 study of women
in federal Crown Corporations conducted by the Advisory Council on the Status of
Women, reported that the federal government is the largest employer in Canada,
with almost 40% of it's employee's (excluding the Army) employed by federal
Crown Corporations. At that time, employees of Crown Corporations were not
subject to the Public Service Employee Act, which prohibited discrimination in
all aspects of employment including personnel hiring and promotion. The study
showed that women made up 37% of the Canadian labour force population and 33% of
federal public service employee population. However, only 15.4% of the total
employee population of federal Crown Corporations were female. The
underrepresentation of women in federal Crown Corporations are clearly evident
in the two charts indicated below. According to the 1981 census, women were at
a disadvantage in a number of ways. In comparison to men, women have higher
unemployment rates, lower participation rates and are concentrated in lower
paying jobs, regardless of their level of education.

Company Men Women % of Women
CN 71,369 4,434 5.9
Air Canada 14,867 6,073 29.6
CBC 8,015 3,094 27
Atomic Energy Canada 5,000 778 13.5
Cape Breton Development 3,822 78 2.0

Number of men and women working for Crown Corporations in 1977

Company Men Women % of Women
CN 1,014 2 0.2
Air Canada 158 1 0.6
CBC 116 2 1.7
Atomic Energy Canada 78 0 0
Cape Breton Development N/A N/A N/A

Number of men and women in senior management

There is also evidence that the other designated groups were at a
disadvantage to fair access to employment. Studies have shown that aboriginal
peoples, have significantly lower participation rates and higher unemployment
rates than those generally experienced in the Canadian labour force. They also
have significantly lower levels of education and are paid lower average salaries.
The 1981 census indicate that "of the total aboriginal population, 50.4% worked
in the Canadian labour force in 1981."
Persons with disabilities have also been at a disadvantage in the
Canadian labour force. Like the aboriginal people, they too have higher
unemployment rates, lower participation rates and lower levels of education.
1981 census statistics for disabled person in the labour force were not readily
available, however it has been suggested that whatever the figure was, between
"1984 and 1986 their participation in the labour force had increase by 11%."
Although members of visible minority groups have relatively high levels
of education and relatively high participation rates, they are generally
concentrated in particular occupational groups
The Abella Commission found that the essence of the problem with respect
to why women and the other designated groups were not reaping the full potential
benefits from their participation in the labour force was "systemic" in nature.
In other words, "the prevailing socio-economic system in which all Canadians
worked had a set of social and political values and institutions in place which
often unintentionally discriminated against these groups." The Abella
Commission harboured the opinion that the discriminating systemic barriers could
only be eliminated through systemic remedies, thus, "comprehensive programs had
to be adopted and put in place to enable target groups to overcome the systemic
barriers of employment. . . . . . . . .and that a new term 'employment equity'
be adopted to describe programs of positive remedy for discrimination in the
In 1986, the federal government passed the Employment Equity Act. The
Act required that all "federally regulated employers with 100 or more employees
to implement equity programs and provide for minimal commitments on the part of
employers to file bare census information on their work force with the Canada
Employment and Immigration Commission and to develop their own defined
employment equity program to remedy systemic discrimination."
On September 1, during the same year, the federal government implemented
the Federal Contractors Employment Equity Program, requiring that all
contractors with 100 employees or more, tendering for goods and services with
the federal government to implement employment equity within their organization.
The Acts essentially aimed at making the demographic characteristics of
the Canadian labour force to be representative of the demographic base of Canada.
"In it's full sense, employment equity is a comprehensive planning process
designed to bring about not only equality of opportunity but equality in results.
Its primary objective is to ensure that the Canadian work force is an accurate
reflection of the composition of the Canadian population given the availability
of required skills. This objective is essentially an ethical goal based on the
value of ensuring equity."
Although some progress has been made since the enactment of the
Employment Equity Act, to date the target groups are still underrepresented in
the labour force, in addition there are other difficulties facing these groups
in relation to the Act.
Provisions were made in the Act requiring mandatory reporting of
progress in the companies affected by the Act (all federally regulated companies
with more than 100 employees). From the information provided by these companies,
which approximates 350, the Minister of Employment and Immigration Canada is
required to compile an annual report, to analyse and monitor the progress of the
Act and to ensure compliance.
Although annual reports exist from 1987 to 1992, while researching this
paper, only the reports for 1989, 1990 and 1992 were readily available for
examination. As such is the case, only the data contained in these reports
wsill be used in this paper.
The 1989 report indicated their had been an increase over the previous
year in representation in the work force by each target group. Women increased
their representation from 40.90% to 42.12%. Aboriginal peoples increased their
representation from 0.66% to 0.73%. Persons with disabilities increased their
representation from 1.59% to 1.71% and members of visible minorities increased
their representation from 4.99% to 5.69%. Of the women employees that had to
be reported by employees under the Act, they constituted 42.12% of the work
force. This constituted a 1.22% increase over the previous year. Their
representation under the act remained lower than their representation in the
Canadian labour force which is 44%.
Aboriginal peoples in the work force under the Act increased very
slightly in the same period and remained underrepresented. They represented
0.73% of the work force under the Act compared with 2.1% representation in the
Canadian labour force.
10,289 persons with disabilities were reported by employers and
constituted 1.71% of all employees reported under the Act. Like the women and
the aboriginal peoples, they too remained underrepresented in each province for
which employees provided a report.
A slight increase in representation was reported for the visible
minority group, however, the report indicated that despite the increase, they
remained underrepresented in the work force under the Employment Equity Act.
The 1992 Annual Report shows that two of the four target groups exceeded
representation in the work force under the Act, compared to representation in
the Canadian labour force. Both the women and visible minority groups achieved
this mark, however the aboriginal peoples and persons of disability remained
underrepresented in the work force under the Act. Women increased their
representation to 44.11% which is about the same now as it was for the Canadian
labour force (44%) at the time of the 1986 Census. Aboriginal peoples increased
to 0.96%. The representation of persons with disabilities increased from 2.39%
in the previous year to 2.50%. And Visible minorities increased to 7.55%,
slightly higher than it was for the Canadian labour force (6.3%) at the time of
the 1986 census.
Though the government may want to pat themselves on the back and claim
partial success of the program, in reflecting on the achievements of the women
and visible minority target groups, there is a concern that factors other than
the Act may have influence the rise in the participation rate of these two
In occupations that were traditionally male dominated, i.e.: lawyers and
notary publics etc., women have been slowly but gradually playing catch up.
This is in part due to the fact that more and more women are graduating from
university. In 1987, Canadian universities granted more than 103,000 degrees at
the bachelor level. This number represented growth of more than 21 % from 1981.
Female graduates out numbered male graduates for the seventh year in a row and
by 1987 accounted for 53% of those receiving bachelor's degrees. The question
then is did the doors to accessible employment open to women because of the
Employment Equity Act or did the women provide access for themselves by
attending university. Unless there is some equity program in place for
university attendance, it would be unreasonable to summize that the Employment
Equity program was the sole vehicle for allowing women fair access into the
But even still, there is no real success to speak of. Although gaps are
being closer to being closed, women are still underrepresented in some
occupations such as upper level managerial positions and overrepresented in
traditionally female occupations. For example, under the Act women comprise
0.21% of upper level managers compared to 1.53% of men. And they comprise
60.97% of clerical workers compared to 14.59% of men. Much of the indicators
are similar for that of the visible minority groups.
As indicated previously, there are other problems associated with the
Act. Complaints have be raised from "public servants and from their unions that
the equal opportunity programs violate the merit principle and discriminate
against candidates outside the target groups for appointment and promotion."
White males in particular feel that they have become victims of reverse
discrimination. As such problems occur when they retaliate against the system
by employing candidates in the target group who are sometimes not competent for
the position hired, in an attempt at hindering that persons oppotunities for
advancement within the company.
Another problem that becomes present is that when a qualified candidate
in a target group is promoted, concerns are raised among those outside the
target group, that the candidate did not excel because of his or her merit but
rather, because of the affiliation to one of the target groups.
Employment equity was initially seen as good social policy. Most people
would agree that it is unjust and unacceptable for a society to have individuals
facing barriers to employment opportunities for reasons unrelated to ability.
These people were underemployed because they are women, aboriginal peoples,
members of visible minorities, or persons with disabilities. Despite the
governments efforts to address the issue, and although some gains have been made,
there is still a significant number in the target groups that still face the
systemic barriers. Perhaps the government has not done enough to change the
status quo. Perhaps allowing the employers to set their own goals and time
tables was an error and should be reviewed. But given the data presented thus
far in their own annual reports and the continuous controversy surrounding the
issue, the Employment Equity act as far as I am concern has only partially
attained its goal.


Kernagan,K et al, Public Administration in Canada
Scarborough, Ontario, Nelson Canada 1991

Kelly, John G. Human Resource Management and the Human Rights Process
Canada, CHH Canadian Limited 1991

Annual Report: The Employment Equity Act. 1989, 1990,
Ottawa, Ministry of supply and Services Canada


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