By Kerry Wall
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) has adopted a hiring policy that gives preference to “designated groups.”
The RSU’s Board of Directors passed the hiring policy at a meeting on Aug. 25 after a lengthy debate about the fairness and relevance of the employment equity section.
It states “(w)hen opportunities for employment or promotion occur, and where under-representation exists, preference will be given to the equally qualified candidates who are members of the groups designated and listed in the Students’ Union Employment Equity Hiring Practice.”
“Designated groups” include women, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, people of colour and queer-identified people.
The policy also states “no unqualified candidate will be given a position based entirely on their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.”
This concerns Gary Wise, a Toronto-based employment lawyer. He said such wording may be used if certain groups are already under-represented.
“Affirmative action can’t possibly be justified if it doesn’t right an identifiable wrong,” he said. “My issue is that there’s got to be an issue of under-representation or discrimination or something so objectionable to require this kind of remedy.”
The policy may contradict the Ontario Human Rights Code when under-representation does not already exist, Wise added. Employment lawyer John O’Kane said the policy is troublesome because there is no way to measure the level of under-representation.
“For a policy to be meaningful, everyone has to know what (under-representation) means,” he said. “But how you measure that, that’s extremely difficult. The more I think about it, there’s an opportunity for misuse and mischief if you were to put bald numbers in.”
Faculty of Arts Director Nicholas Gauthier proposed an amendment that would have given students the choice to self-identify as belonging to designated groups when applying for RSU positions. It did not pass.
Wise warned that though Gauthier’s proposed amendment would have given students an option, “collecting that sort of information on a job application is against the law.”
Gauthier voted for the original policy once his amendment failed. He stressed that his suggestions should not be interpreted as a lack of faith in his colleagues.
“I wanted to know under what circumstances preference would be given,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t trust people, but I think we owe it to students.
“This policy reflects a progressive political ideology,” he said. “I totally support that but I know there are some people who don’t subscribe to that.”
Vice-president education Nora Loreto said the timing of the vote was important.
“We wanted this in place for new students in the fall,” she said. “But it’s been a long time coming.”
Loreto and Vice-President Finances and Services Ram Sivapalan claimed to have been shut out of the running for work-study positions last year because their political views conflicted with those of the majority of the RyeSAC (now renamed RSU) executive.
Both were revealed to have topped shortlists of capable candidates, but were never granted interviews. The hiring process was eventually closed.