Putting Equity into Practice

 

The National Workplace Equity Symposium for Persons with Disabilities took place at the Ch?teau Laurier in Ottawa from January 25 to 27, 1998. It was organized by the Labour Program, Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC), in partnership with the following institutions: Office for Persons with Disabilities (HRDC); Public Service Commission; Treasury Board of Canada; Indian and Northern Affairs Canada; Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC); Industry Canada; Health Canada; Canadian Bankers Association; Nortel; IBM; Canada Post; and Bell Canada.

In a spirit of partnership between the government, private sector employers, labour organizations and the community of persons with disabilities, the symposium provided an opportunity for participants to share their knowledge and experience about the best ways of putting the principles of equity into practice.

Some 230 participants networked and reflected on improvements that have occurred for persons with disabilities, while noting that further changes are required to realize full integration of persons with disabilities in Canadian society. Coming from different perspectives, keynote speakers and participants at the symposium stressed the necessity of continuing to work together to ensure full participation in Canadian citizenship, which requires full integration in all dimensions of Canadian society.

Access to meaningful employment has been identified as a key element to such integration. In order to achieve this goal, however, participants indicated that legislation must be supplemented by substantial changes in attitudes and social environments. Public education, advocacy and partnerships were mentioned as being key to changing attitudes and corporate cultures.

A number of measures to increase awareness and support the integration of persons with disabilities were discussed during the symposium, including:

– supporting and implementing a survey on persons with disabilities to ensure government policies and programs are supported by informed decision making;
– implementing workplace practices that have been identified by experienced organizations and their partners;
– increasing awareness of disability issues among managers at all levels;
– making more efforts in recruiting and retaining persons with disabilities;
– providing training that is tailored to the specific needs of persons with disabilities;
– improving the availability of information in alternate format, including in particular information necessary for undergoing competency exams and participating in competitions;
– ensuring that managers are held accountable for decisions they make regarding the hiring, retention and accommodation of persons with disabilities;
– ensuring managers are recognized for initiatives which support and promote the integration of persons with disabilities in the workplace;
– assessing the introduction of new workplace changes in order to prevent the creation of new barriers;
– identifying and removing environmental and attitudinal barriers to employment of persons with disabilities;
– providing timely accommodation in close collaboration with persons with disabilities;
– ensuring an early return to work of employees with disabilities, building new partnerships to further improve the integration of persons with disabilities;
– encouraging employers to put into practice the principles of equity.

The new Employment Equity Act embodies principles which encourage the application of a number of the above measures. It clarifies employers’ obligations to accommodate persons with disabilities and to engage in an employment systems review to identify and eliminate barriers to employment. It also provides a mandate to the CHRC to ensure that employers are fulfilling their obligations under the Act.

A number of keynote speakers noted that under the impact of major restructuring of the welfare state, an intensified preoccupation with the bottom line and an increasing concern with world competition, traditional mechanisms of mutual support have been eroded, and the importance of civil society weakened. Nonetheless, new forms of solidarity have been established and a genuine commitment to individual and collective well-being is being rebuilt on the basis of a renewed social contract and through reconstructed partnerships.

The symposium was in itself a manifestation of these renewed commitments and partnerships leading to suggestions that the event should be established as an Annual National Workplace Equity Symposium, which would provide an opportunity to assess the progress made, to consolidate partnerships and to maintain the momentum.

(For more information, contact Abdou Saouab, HRDC, tel.: (819) 953-7494; e-mail: Abdou.Saouab@hrdc-drhc.gc.ca.)

STRENGTH IN DIVERSITY

The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, P.C., M.P., the federal
Minister of Labour, greeted the delegates at the National
Workplace Equity Symposium for Persons with Disabilities.

It is an honour for me to host the National Workplace Equity
Symposium for Persons with Disabilities. The line-up of
distinguished speakers, experts and participants is of the
highest calibre — and I am delighted to join you this morning in
this first panel session.

I know that so many of you have worked long and hard to raise
public awareness about, and to tear down, the barriers to
accommodation that many Canadians face in the workplace. I am
proud to be part of a government that has made a strong, positive
contribution in this area.

Most recently — just last month, in fact — a commitment was
made at the First Ministers’ Conference to revamp and coordinate
federal and provincial programs. We hope to have agreements in
place on work assistance programs by April of this year.

The Scott Task Force Report on disability issues was released in
October of 1996. In response, my colleague, the Minister of Human
Resources Development (HRDC), the Honourable Pierre Pettigrew,
has taken a number of initiatives over the past year to address
its recommendations. For example:

– The federal government has introduced the Opportunity Fund to
support employment-related efforts by persons with disabilities.
– It has committed 12 million dollars per year to support the
work of non-profit groups, including those that represent or work
with this target group of workers.
– In addition, HRDC will continue with ongoing consultations to
ensure that its programs, services and policies meet the needs of
persons with disabilities.

While there have been improvements in work site accessibility and
acceptance, statistics continue to show that persons with
disabilities are still under-represented in the workplaces across
this country. That is because these workers are stopped in their
tracks by a series of barriers, many of them related to
accessibility and accommodation.

And when this happens, the community as a whole loses — loses
the skills, talents, expertise and energy that persons with
disabilities are ready and eager to contribute to our economy.
With increased competition and globalized trade, we can ill
afford to ignore such an important pool of talent — a pool of
talent that, given a chance and a workplace that can accommodate
it, can compete on an equal basis with any worker.

The federal Employment Equity Act, for which I have
responsibility as Minister of Labour, was strengthened in 1996.
There are a few key elements of the new Act that I want to
highlight.

The original Act of the previous decade set out the principles of
inclusion, fairness and equal access to employment opportunities.
The new legislation builds on employers’ obligations, and
provides a mandate to the Canadian Human Rights Commission to
ensure employers are fulfilling these obligations. Also, its
provisions have been extended to include the federal public
service.

Under the new Act, employers are required to identify and
eliminate barriers to employment for four designated groups:
persons with disabilities, women, Aboriginal peoples, and members
of visible minorities. Employers must also take decisive measures
in the direction of a representative work force.

Employers will be expected to develop and implement equity plans,
with clearly stated goals for hiring and promoting qualified
members of the four designated groups. And the plans must present
positive policies to address under-representation — including
accommodation issues.

With the legislative ground rules now firmly in place, we must
bring together the creative ideas and tools that will help
persons with disabilities realize their full potential in the
world of work.

Over the next two days, you will be presented with a wealth of
information on the legal, social, economic and legislative
aspects of workplace accommodation. I urge each of you to share
your successes and your failures, so that we can all learn from
each other.

You’ll have a chance to discuss practical strategies for
eliminating barriers to accommodation, in a way that increases
representation, productivity and the corporate bottom line.

In 1986, Canada received international acclaim when it became the
first country to introduce employment equity legislation covering
four designated groups. A decade later, we know and can be proud
that the strengthened Employment Equity Act is in accord with the
international trends we helped to set in motion. We know that
legislation alone will not be enough to get the job done.
Continuing progress will depend on policies and behaviours that
go well beyond the Act, and on the development of ever-stronger
partnerships, particularly among the groups that are represented
at this symposium.

At its simplest, employment equity is about making sure that
everyone has an equal chance to compete on a level playing field.

Its application benefits not just individual workers, but society
as a whole. A workplace that fully responds to the concerns of
all its employees — regardless of gender, heritage, or
disability — is both more productive and competitive. And a
workplace that reflects the diversity of its population inherits
the strengths found in such diversity.

In the months ahead, we intend to work with you to increase
public awareness, and to continue strengthening the partnerships
that will make workplace accommodation a success. In closing, I
would like to thank all of you for your interest and acknowledge
the contributions of sponsors from both the public and private
sectors.

 

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