Emancipation Day: Canada’s unions demand stronger measures to address systemic racism

August 1, 2023

As we mark Emancipation Day on August 1, it’s important that all people in Canada recognize and reflect on this country’s history of slavery and the lasting legacy of inequity still facing Black workers. To address ongoing systemic racism and discrimination in the world of work, Canada’s unions are urging the federal government to strengthen the Employment Equity Act.

Emancipation Day – recognizing the abolition of slavery in Canada and other British colonies on August 1,1834 – is a time to honour the struggles, triumphs and resilience of Black communities in Canada, and to confront the ills of racism, oppression and discrimination that continue to plague Black people in this country.

“An updated Employment Equity Act is crucial, but Black workers also need to see the creation and implementation of an intersectional national anti-Black racism strategy that includes strong employment and pay targets and solid measures to combat persistent labour-market discrimination and exclusion, which is what Black workers are consistently up against,” said Larry Rousseau, Executive Vice-President of the CLC.

The impacts of anti-Black racism are far-reaching, causing major barriers to economic advancement and empowerment for Black communities and ongoing labour market discrimination. This has resulted in Black workers earning lower wages and facing barriers in hiring, advancement, promotion and retention.

A 2023 Black Canadian National Survey conducted by York University’s Institute for Social Research, in partnership with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, found 75% of Black Canadians and 70% of other non-white people experience racism in the workplace as a serious or very serious problem. 47% of Black Canadians reported they had been treated unfairly by an employer in hiring, pay or promotion in the previous 12 months, compared to only 15% of white Canadians.

“Canada’s unions continue to stand in solidarity with Black workers by calling on our governments to address these longstanding inequities in employment stemming from this country’s unjust history. This includes strengthening the Employment Equity Act to acknowledge the barriers experienced by specific communities through the collection and analysis of disaggregated data. A renewed Act must also be accompanied by sufficient funding to support its full and proper implementation by employers, and the enforcement functions of the Canadian Human Rights Commission,” said Bea Bruske, President of the CLC.

The CLC is looking forward to the release of the report of the Employment Equity Review Task Force. We are committed to working with the government to ensure meaningful action on implementing its recommendations in support of greater equity for Black workers, and all workers experiencing barriers to employment equity.

Canada’s unions also continue to support the legal action taken against the Government of Canada via the Black Class Action, which seeks redress for the injustices faced by Black federal public service workers, past and present, who have experienced discrimination in hiring and promotion practices.

This Emancipation Day, here are some things you can do to celebrate and support Black workers and communities:

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