Unions representing more than three million workers are urging the federal government to drop its challenge of a proposed class action lawsuit brought by Black federal public servants alleging racial discrimination in the federal public service.
The Canadian Labour Congress, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada told a joint news conference Monday the federal government doesn’t have grounds to continue its court challenge.
“Now is the time for the federal government to step up and do the right thing,” said Larry Rousseau, executive vice president of the Canadian Labour Congress, the country’s largest labour organization.
The proposed lawsuit — launched in 2020 — alleges Black public servants have endured decades of systemic racism and discrimination. The lawsuit alleges that since the 1970s, roughly 30,000 Black employees have lost out on opportunities and benefits afforded to others because of their race.
It seeks $2.5 billion in compensation for economic hardships and a mental health plan for employees’ pain and trauma. Plaintiffs also want a plan to diversify the federal labour pool.
The need for the federal government to withdraw its challenge became more urgent, the unions argue, after it concluded recently that the Canadian Human Rights Commission had discriminated against its Black and racialized employees.
The Canadian government’s human resources arm, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBCS), came to that conclusion after nine employees filed a policy grievance through their unions in October 2020.
Their grievance alleged that “Black and racialized employees at the CHRC (Canadian Human Rights Commission) face systemic anti-Black racism, sexism and systemic discrimination.”
“This ruling by the government confirms that workers cannot turn to the commission for redress, and it is harming its workers,” said Nicholas Marcus Thompson, the executive director of the Black Class Action Secretariat.
“As a matter of fact, its workers have told Canadians not to turn to the commission because it is a toxic workplace. And their race-based complaint is likely to be rejected.”
A group of current and former commission employees who spoke to CBC News said they’d noticed all-white investigative teams at the Canadian Human Rights Commission were dismissing complaints from Black and other racialized Canadians at a higher rate.
WATCH: Numbers show high dismissal rate for race-based complaints
Numbers the commission provided to the CBC back up the argument that the commission has a high dismissal rate for human rights complaints based on race.
CBC has requested interviews with the CHRC’s executive director Ian Fine and interim chief commissioner Charlotte-Anne Malischewski. The commission has declined those requests because it says the matter is in mediation. CBC also reached out to Justice Minister David Lametti’s office for comment.
Grievance process won’t address the problem: unions
At Monday’s press conference, the unions acknowledged that the labour grievance and appeals process isn’t the place for Black civil servants to seek justice.
The union heads said the process can’t settle claims for Black employees who have left the public service. The grievance system also can’t address claims about stalled career paths, they said.
One union head added that the body that adjudicates grievances, the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board, could take five to six years to make a decision.
The board also offers solutions to individual complaints — it can’t address systemic discrimination affecting the entire public service, said Jennifer Carr, the national president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.
“That’s why the class action is important because it’s going to force the government to do those systemic changes that we can’t get through any other means,” Carr said.
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