So many big changes are happening in the federal government's budget bill -- Bill C-38 -- that some significant issues like the changes to the Federal Contractors Program (FCP) have escaped attention. Part 4 Division 42 of C-38 is very short. It merely says that subsection 42(2) of the Employment Equity Act is replaced by the following:
"The Minister is responsible for the administration of the Federal Contractors Program for Employment."
It sounds innocuous enough until one looks that the subsection in the original Act. This section stipulates that while discharging this responsibility the Minister needs to ensure that contractors with the federal government implement employment equity equivalent to those required of an employer covered by the Employment Equity Act. All of this has been eliminated.
The removal of this "equivalency" requirement in Bill C-38 essentially does away with the legal requirement that contractors apply Employment Equity Act standards in their workplaces. The Minister now has the latitude to establish any standard s/he wants -- or none at all. Obviously there would be no reason to change this legislation if the Minister intended to continue to apply the employment equity provisions.
The FCP was established in the mid-1980s to protect designated groups that historically experienced discrimination. These groups are women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities. It stipulated that any organization with 100 or more employees that wanted to bid on a federal government contract had to agree to implement employment equity. Each contractor had to have a plan to ensure employment equity, and collect data on its employees related to the proportion in each designated group and earnings by group. The company also needed to report annually on its findings. The information publicly available from these reports was significant in encouraging many sectors, such as the banking sector, to change employment practices.
This equity tool, and indeed the Employment Equity Act itself was never enough to do what needed to be done, but however inadequate, it was one of the few equity tools we have and it is now being dismantled. The FCP will still be on the books, but all of the regional staff positions will be eliminated within 16 months. Essentially this means compliance reviews will not occur. Also, the Ottawa staff will be cut and the total workforce (never very large, at 40) will shrink to 17.
This is a huge step backward for groups protected by the Employment Equity legislation. Without the enforcement of equity provisions in FCP employers (like universities and banks) can bid on government contracts and simply not have to worry about their discriminatory practices in hiring, promotion and pay.
This article was first posted on Policy Note.