Monday, March 30, 2009

A new way of counting

Pay equity in the federal public service having now been dispensed with, employment equity is in the news today. The notion that the PS should be broadly representative of the public whom it serves does not appear in practice to have yet sunk in. But this morning we learn of a bold new initiative by the Public Service Commission to improve the numbers. And I mean that literally.

Visible minorities in the federal public service are underrepresented in comparison to their labour force availability. In 2007-8, according to the Treasury Board's own figures, 9.2% of the PS workforce, and (by coincidence) 9.2% of new hires were visible minority individuals, below the labour force availability figure of 10.4%.

There's been a strong push in recent years to improve visible minority representation in public service ranks. The Senate, for example, released a report in 2007, Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service – Not There Yet, with some tough recommendations, including this one:

Recommendation 1 – The Committee recommends that as a next step towards strengthening leadership and enhancing management and executive accountability, the bonuses of deputy ministers be tied to performance assessments in terms of progress on diversity and employment equity goals.

And last year, deputy heads were ordered by Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch to hire visible minority workers at an increased rate, beyond their labour force availability.

Now, as reported, the Public Service Commission of Canada has hit upon a possible solution:

[PSC head Maria] Barrados said the commission devised a new way of counting, which showed 17.3 per cent of all hires last year are visible minorities compared with earlier estimates of 9.5 per cent. [emphasis added]

But there is a problem:

To complicate matters, Treasury Board released, on the same day, its long-overdue employment equity reports showing visible minorities are still under-represented and their numbers are about half of those estimated by the commission.

Needless to say, John Gordon, President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, is not amused. Neither is Igho Natufe, president of the National Council of Visible Minorities in the Federal Public Service, who calls the Commission's methodology "suspect and obscure." Stay tuned: this could get very interesting.

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