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No Excuse for Ontario Public Service's Racism Problem

posted 3 years ago

In the last two weeks, the Ontario Public Service has been cast as a racist organization following the release of a 175-page third-party report completed by INDsight Consulting earlier this year.

The report found employees “indicated a toxic culture of fear, harassment, discrimination, and reprisal; and “many employees in discussion groups felt that the OPS was a fundamentally racist organization.”

While one would expect a deluge of opposition to the findings of the report, the OPS has in fact adopted and accepted its findings. Secretary of the Cabinet, Steven Davidson wrote an email to all OPS employees with an apology, acknowledging there is work to be done.

In part, he wrote: “We apologize for the harm caused to Black employees by the prevalence and severity of anti-Black racism in the workplace.”

An apology in the midst of ongoing, unrelenting misconduct is scarier than no apology at all. It is political at its core; well-intentioned or not.

With its wealth of resources, including an ample HR department in every ministry, and a robust union presence, there is no excuse for the insidious nature of racism to persist at the OPS.

Since the release of the report, the CBC featured several black OPS employees sharing their own stories of discrimination.

One employee said their white supervisor “makes demeaning comments on their nice car and clothes and has said they’re not a “typical” Black person.” Another black employee, Glendon Thomas, raised discrimination concerns to his managers, the union and then filed an application to the human rights tribunal. He told the CBC he was labelled a troublemaker and was singled out by senior managers.

Thomas’ story belies the apparent protections afforded to him as an employee of the government backed by one of the country’s most powerful unions, OPSEU. What has OPSEU done to protect employees from discrimination at the OPS?

If an employee, like Glendon Thomas, raises discrimination concerns to his union representative, HR should have been involved immediately to resolve the issue. A grievance could have been filed and sent to arbitration. Wrongdoers would and should have been identified, disciplined or removed.

Shouldering none of the responsibility, in response to the report OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo Almeida said, “The government, as an employer, has not taken complaints about workplace discrimination and harassment seriously in the past.”

While the broad apology to OPS employees has drawbacks, including the risk that the legal system will now be overwhelmed with some complaints that do not meet the threshold of discrimination, it is unequivocal that a union’s primary responsibility is to protect the rights and interests of its membership. If racism is systemic within the OPS, the duty to protect employees falls at the feet of OPSEU too.

A union is meant to be the moral compass of an employer, the check and balance, the knight on guard. Unfortunately, this knight has yet to fall on its sword.


THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE TORONTO SUN AND IS REPRODUCED HERE BY PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR: https://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/chaudhri-no-excuse-for-ontario-public-services-racism-problem



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