Nova Scotia

HRM employees protest anti-black racism on the job

A group of black Nova Scotians gathered at city hall on Tuesday afternoon to protest anti-black racism they've experienced on the job.

'The anti-black racism and discrimination within HRM is at 1950s levels,' says group spokesperson

African-Nova Scotians employed by the Halifax Regional Municipality say they deal with racial discrimination on the job and are consistently passed over for promotions. (Steve Berry/CBC)

A group of workers employed by the Halifax Regional Municipality is calling for changes after employees say they've endured racism on the job and are passed over for promotions.

The group held a protest at city hall on Tuesday afternoon, citing a 2016 employment system review report that looked at hiring practices within the municipality.

"The anti-black racism and discrimination within HRM is at 1950s levels. It has not improved," said Raymond Sheppard, the spokesperson for the group. He is not employed by the city.

"The workers behind me cite racial slurs, anti-black sexism.… They are overlooked for promotions and if they get a promotion, it's for a term position."

The report, dated January 2016, was completed by a consultant out of Toronto and made about 90 recommendations, including strengthening supports for bias-free hiring, embedding equity and diversity into more human resources policies and improving HRM's response to violence, discrimination and harassment.

Raymond Sheppard says almost two years after an HRM employment systems review was done, almost none of the recommendations have been implemented. (Steve Berry/CBC)

One section of the report looked specifically at anti-black racism in HRM, saying the "overwhelming opinion" of African-Nova Scotian employees is that they have experienced incidents of harassment and discrimination at work.

"Of concern to us is not just that these incidents occurred, but that they were not immediately and effectively addressed by supervisors," the report reads.

"As a result, issues that could be immediately addressed have been allowed to fester, allowing old issues to resurface and the work environment to be further poisoned. Also of concern are the behaviours of supervisors which, as it has been described to us, constitute harassment and discrimination."

2 years later

Sheppard said two years after the report was published, "most of the recommendations have not been implemented."

"It's insulting to the African-Nova Scotian community. It's insulting to the workers," he said.

"The African-Nova Scotians that are employed by HRM are hard workers. They know their job. They do a job well done each and every time. However, they are passed over consistently by the administration and by supervisors within HRM."

Staff already reviewing progress

Coun. Lindell Smith, who represents district 8, said he is waiting for a progress report from staff on the review, which he asked for because he was aware of concerns about how racialized people were treated. 

"Council does not do personnel, but if we have policies that will kind of drive how we can put policy in the future, then I'm more than happy to be part of it," he told reporters.

Coun. Lindell Smith says councillors don't hire municipal employees but he says policies could contribute to changes in the workforce. (CBC)

Mayor Mike Savage said some improvements have been made since 2016 but the municipality "can do a lot better."

He said there needs to be more training programs and more diversity in supervisor roles — including people with disabilities, African-Nova Scotians, Indigenous people and francophone Acadians. 

"It's not sufficient and I think most people in the municipality would tell you that it is not sufficient," Savage said. "People have a right to see folks who they think share their experience in manager roles and I think it's good for the municipality as well as good for the employees if we have that."  

Jacques Dubé is the CAO of Halifax Regional Municipality. (CBC)

CAO Jacques Dubé published a statement on Tuesday afternoon saying that creating meaningful change takes time.

"Building a more diverse and inclusive culture and an equitable and safe environment for our employees remains our priority. We know we can do better than our past and we are committed to making it happen," Dubé said in the statement.

"We recognize most employees connect to their organization's culture and purpose through their immediate supervisor. For African-Nova Scotia employees, this can be challenging if they don't feel represented by their manager."

Dubé said an updated progress report on the implementation of the report's recommendations is expected within a month.

With files from Pam Berman