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Employment Equity Vital to Future Labour Market

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: This item is reprinted from the Star Phoenix, June 19, 2003. Image: Chief Commissioner Donna Scott Following is the personal viewpoint of the writer, chief commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.

Quotas? No, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission does not believe in quotas; we believe in fairness for individuals.

Employment equity is not about numbers; it's about equal participation in society, about effective services and about the prosperity of businesses and those who work within them.

I commend the SP for its support of equity programs in its June 6 editorial. However, last week's Sound Off question asked about racial "quotas," the exact word the editors previously labelled as "based on misinformation or confusion."

I'm concerned that misinformation about equity programs is being used to fuel racism and further misunderstanding.

Perhaps it is time to set the record straight. Employment equity is not about quotas and never has been. It's a practical tool for workplaces that want to move toward true equality -- equality of result.

Equity programs allow employers, when considering qualified applicants, to choose candidates that bring their workforce closer to reflecting the diversity of Saskatchewan's population.

When we look at the representation in the average workplace of aboriginal people, those with disabilities, members of visible minority groups and, in some instances, women, we see that they are, for the most part, grossly under-represented. They often hold lower-paying jobs and earn less.

Saskatchewan's Human Rights Code gives the commission authority to approve special programs to reduce disadvantages created by past or current discrimination. Equality does not always mean treating everyone in the same manner; sometimes, different treatment is needed for different groups. Equity initiatives can be seen as "equalizers" that focus on the removal of barriers to education and employment.

Equity programs do not lower standards. On the contrary, they help improve the quality of the workforce by reaching out to qualified, knowledgeable applicants from groups that have been excluded and therefore underutilized in the past. Businesses benefit from a broader range of job applicants, better customer service and the creative energy generated by a variety of perspectives.

Our experience has shown us that employment equity and educational initiatives are interdependent. Employers cannot develop a representative workforce without access to diverse, well-trained applicants, while educators may find their efforts wasted if students go on to encounter prejudice and exclusion in the workplace.

Saskatchewan employers should be proud of their equity initiatives over the past 20 years. Businesses are reaching out to their communities, partnering with aboriginal organizations to provide mentoring, scholarships and work placements, and providing employment for people with disabilities by carving out duties from existing jobs to fit the abilities of an individual.

However, despite these positive measures, employers are still scrambling to find willing workers. Predicted labour shortages mean Saskatchewan will need the contributions of all residents in the years ahead.

The business advantages of a diverse workforce can be achieved only if we reject inflammatory language that pits one group against another and perpetuates negative, racial stereotypes.

We encourage Saskatchewan employers to open their doors to all qualified applicants and build harmony in the workplace through mutual understanding and respect.

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