HALIFAX – A third party report reviewing Halifax Regional Municipality’s Operations Department delivered to council back in January shows an overwhelming number of African Nova Scotian employees said they experienced racism or harassment in the workplace.
The report by Turner Consulting Group entitled HRM Employment Systems Review was obtained by NEWS 95.7 and dated January 19, 2016, which also shows the systemic problems in the department have been compounded because of an overall failure to address them.
“The overwhelming opinion of the African Nova Scotian employees with whom we spoke is that they have experienced incidents of harassment and discrimination in the workplace,” the report reads. “Of concern to us is not just that these incidents occurred, but that they were not immediately and effectively addressed by supervisors.”
The report continues on to say the behaviour of supervisors in addressing some of the claims as described in personnel interviews “constitute harassment and discrimination.”
“The consultations with employees and interviews with supervisors suggest that the business unit is caught in a self-sustaining cycle of prejudice in which African Nova Scotians continue to be negatively impacted by experiences of harassment and discrimination, and supervisors and other employees dismiss these concerns or blame the victim for their response.”
The report makes a number of recommendations to address what it calls “anti-black racism,” within the operations department, but most critically, “that anti-racism be incorporated as part of the organization’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy.”
It also recommends HRM take a leadership role in celebrating African Heritage Month and do more to engage its Racially Visible Employee Caucus, as the report finds a “failure to engage with the group has meant that the organization has not identified nor addressed the issues of concern to African Nova Scotian employees.”
“RVEC should be consulted on how to address issues of anti-Black racism and what is needed to create change and healing within the business unit.”
City: Working to implement recommendations
In a statement to NEWS 95.7, HRM spokesperson Tiffany Chase said the review was conducted after employees with the Parks and Road Operations divisions “expressed concerns regarding their work environment.”
The report’s findings have been forwarded to all employee groups that were involved in the process, according to Chase, and “an implementation team has been established to manage the prioritization and roll out of the recommendations.”
The team includes representatives from the Diversity and Inclusion Office, Human Resources, Corporate Communications and RVEC.
Chase said creating a diverse and inclusive work environment is “a key pillar of the organization and ongoing work of the implementation team … is supported by all levels of the organization.”
Calls to the union representing workers in the department, CUPE Local 108, were not returned on Wednesday.
Not just racism, but homophobic and sexist language
It’s not just racism that has been an issue for employees of the department either, as the report also found based on the information collected, that “many employees are subject to racist comments and conduct, sexist language, homophobic language, and other inappropriate conduct or comments.”
In their inaction, the report finds “supervisors and managers have condoned the behaviour, and, as such, make themselves personally liable should a successful human rights complaint be made.”
“They also put the organization at risk, both financially and reputationally,” the report finds, or by creating a further “poisoned work environment.”
It makes a number of recommendations regarding investigating complaints of harassment and discrimination, including making sure the appropriate resources be allotted to the issues, with an emphasis on restorative justice.
Community activist not surprised
Spoken word activist El Jones says the only way to address racism is to have an open and public conversation about the issue.
“Racism is embedded in our society, and if we want to fight it we have to be committed to recognizing it exists, to believing the people who experience it, and then working on fixing it,” she explained.
Jones added more education on appropriate workplace behaviour could be the key to eliminating discrimination.
“Racism isn’t just something that evil people do,” she said, explaining some think they’re just joking when they make comments.
“I can accept that a lot of people don’t understand that they’re being offensive.”
Jones says the issue has been getting a lot of attention lately with the launch of a number of human rights cases.