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January 1, 1993 -

Last June, Elaine Ziemba, the Ontario Minister of Citizenship, introduced employment equity legislation designed to eliminate job discrimination. The act stipulates: "Every employer's workforce, in all occupational categories and at all levels of employment, shall reflect the representation of Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, members of racial minorities and women in the community."

Many critics of this far-reaching state intervention have predicted that the act will create more problems than it resolves. Not surprisingly, according to the Financial Post (December 12, 1992), the advisory group recently assembled to formulate key regulations of the act has already run stuck because of severe disagreements among its members. One observer described the scene within the group as "chaos."

The group is made up of six representatives each from the private sector, unions, and the so-called target groups, as well as five human resource persons. One member of the committee is quoted as saying that the advocacy groups' representatives displayed a strong distrust towards employers. A major source of contention is the make-up of the mandatory joint workplace committees that will develop the employment equity plans. Employers with several bargaining agents may be in a minority position, even though they must implement the plans and assume costs.

Another controversy is the manner in which the data will be used. The legislation demands that hiring and promotions be proportionate to the presence of the various target groups in the community. This presents two immediate problems: first, how will the "community" be defined, and what will be its geographic boundaries; second, the legislation assumes that the number of competent people in the designated categories is in every instance proportionate to their actual percentage within the community.

But the complex reality of life simply cannot be that neatly categorized. For example, suppose five per cent of the community (however defined) consists of visible minorities. Consequently, employers' workforces must include the same percentage. However, there is no guarantee that they will be able to find the required percentage of willing and able candidates from the target group. What are employers then to do, hire unqualified people? Would they be forced to prove that they cannot meet the demands of the law? And if so, what evidence would be acceptable and how would it be obtained?

Faced with the impossible dilemmas created by the act, it is no wonder that the committee has been described as "chaotic." And this is only the beginning. The new law is bound to give rise to a bureaucratic quagmire. Rather than promoting equity, imposition of reverse discrimination will fuel resentment and discord.