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Myth #1

Employment equity has been in place for a long time and hasnt worked. Why is CUPE involved in partnership agreements for Aboriginal peoples now?

The Facts:

Employment equity has made a positive difference to Aboriginal people but the success of individual plans depends on the employers commitment to creating a more diverse workforce. Unfortunately, employment equity has been a voluntary program in the province with only about ten percent of the workforce being covered by such plans. If more workplaces had employment equity plans, we would have a more representative workforce.

Identical treatment is not equal treatment. Treating everyone the same regardless of race does not mean equal treatment. A parallel can be drawn with the situation of a physically disabled person who uses a wheelchair who may be treated the same by everyone else but who suffers differential impact if only stairs were available.

The statistics show that Aboriginal people are vastly underrepresented in the workforce. For example, Aboriginal people make up about 12.5 percent of the Saskatchewan population but only 2 percent of the workforce. In workplaces with an employment equity plan, the representation of Aboriginal workers has grown from 3 to 7.6 percent over the past nine years.

By the year 2045 the Aboriginal population will grow to 32 percent of the provincial population. Employment equity plans are important but we need to develop additional strategies for Aboriginal workers so that their full employment potential can be reached. We need to support education and training opportunities and workplace preparation so that Aboriginal people can prepare for jobs.

We believe that the union should be involved in this process to keep pressure on the employers and educate our own members, which will create workplaces that are receptive to Aboriginal workers. That is what the partnership agreements are intended to do.

Myth #2

Targeting Aboriginal people for hiring is reverse discrimination. How will my kids ever get a job in Saskatchewan?

The Facts:

For decades Aboriginal people have suffered from discrimination and economic hardship. They have faced many barriers in the education system, in the workforce and other areas that have prevented them from participating fully in our society. Currently only 47 percent of Aboriginal people of working age are in the workforce. We cannot continue to shut the doors on Aboriginal people.

All parents are concerned about their children getting a good job. This is no different for Aboriginal people who also want to see their children get good jobs in this province. An underlying assumption to this myth is that Aboriginal people are not qualified for or deserving of good jobs. Aboriginal people also have the right to access secure, good paying and personally fulfilling jobs. People who oppose this and call it reverse discrimination are supporting the status quo.

Targeting Aboriginal people for hiring is not designed to discriminate against one group for the benefit of another. The goal is to ensure that the workplace is representative of all groups. The truth is that some groups have enjoyed advantages at the expense of others for decades. Hiring more Aboriginals does not remove the opportunities for equal treatment because you are only hiring at levels equal to their representation in society. In other words, treating people differently so that there is equality of results. We are talking about reversing the effects of discrimination, not reverse discrimination.

The cost of under-employing Aboriginal people will be borne by everyone. It has been estimated that by providing training and employment opportunities for Aboriginal people, Saskatchewan can expect to gain an estimated $600 million a year in productivity and up to $500 million annually due to reduced health, human justice services and social assistance costs.

Myth #3

The principle of seniority is eroded by promoting Aboriginal people in the workplace.

The Facts:

It is important to remember that seniority and employment equity have the same objective: to give workers some control over their employers hiring decisions, which otherwise may be based on favouritism or discrimination.

If employers had always hired fairly, we would already have a representative workforce and there would be no talk about reverse discrimination or dangers to seniority.

Unions have long held the view that the workplace is the place where social change begins: the workplace is a reflection of our society. If we want a society free of discrimination, a society that provides equal opportunities for all, then we must work to rid our workplaces of systemic barriers that discriminate against certain groups of workers.

For example, old ways of calculating seniority were discriminatory towards women who took absences from the workplace to have children. Unions are now addressing this by bargaining provisions that allow women to continue to earn seniority while on maternity leave.

Unions have a duty to examine how seniority impacts on Aboriginal workers on a case by case basis. Because Aboriginal people have faced discrimination in the workplace or have been shut out of job opportunities, they do not have the seniority to bid on higher paid positions or promotions. As unionists, we must be involved in finding ways to protect the principle of seniority while providing opportunities for hiring and advancement of under represented groups in our workplaces.

Myth #4

Aboriginal people dont pay their own way. They dont even pay any taxes!

The Facts:

This is a myth being promoted by right-wing politicians like the Alliance and Saskatchewan parties. Dont forget that these parties also support Right to Work legislation and the dismantling of all trade union rights.

First of all, all Inuit, Metis and non-status Indians pay taxes.

Only registered Indians who earn income on a reserve for a company or organization that is located on the reserve are exempt from paying federal and provincial income tax. This is part of their treaty rights in exchange for the land that was given up.

Registered Indians who earn income off reserve must pay income tax. If their income is very low, however, like any other low income Canadians they might pay very little or no taxes. That has more to do with their low-income status than their Indian status. The average earned income of Aboriginal people in 1995, for example, was only $13,305 for women and $18,221 for men.

In Saskatchewan, Status Indians and bands do not pay provincial sales tax or the GST on goods when those goods are delivered to the reserve. Fuel and tobacco sales on reserve are also exempt from the provincial fuel and tobacco tax.

If the goods are purchased off reserve or not delivered to the reserve, the GST and PST is payable. It is important to note that there are similar tax exemptions provided to different organizations or educational institutions and many low-income Canadians receive a GST rebate.

Working people need to understand who the real tax evaders are. Many corporations and wealthy Canadians find loopholes to avoid paying taxes. Provincial and federal governments are buckling under pressure to cut income taxes that benefit mostly the wealthy and leaving governments with less revenue to pay for social programs.

Myth #5

Aboriginal people get special privileges and rights in Canada. What about my rights?

The Facts:

Aboriginal people enjoy the same fundamental benefits as all other Canadians, such as access to the Child Tax Benefit, Old Age Security, medicare, schooling, CPP and Unemployment Insurance.

There are constitutionally-protected Aboriginal rights such as the right to hunt and fish for subsistence. This is extended to status, non-status, Metis and Inuit peoples.

The treaties that were signed with First Nations provide specific benefits in exchange for land. The land that was ceded by Aboriginal people has allowed this country and its new population to prosper. Under the treaties, First Nations have access to reserve lands, hunting and fishing rights, and the payment of annuities, depending on the specific terms of the treaty. In many cases, our governments have not honoured the terms of the treaties.

The federal government provides some housing and post-secondary funding to Aboriginal people. The federal funding, however, does not meet the needs of Aboriginal people and most Aboriginal people living on reserves and in urban centres live in substandard and crowded housing.

The reality is that Aboriginal people have unemployment and poverty rates that are more than double the national average, a lower life expectancy, greater incidence of illness and alarmingly high suicide rates. It is quite clear that Aboriginal people face more disadvantages in our society than advantages.

Myth #6

Unions should protect their own members first. Let Aboriginal organizations worry about their people.

The Facts:

The Aboriginal population is growing at a much faster rate than the non-aboriginal population in Saskatchewan. In the next ten years, 32,000 Aboriginal people will be ready to enter the workforce in Saskatchewan.

Unions must be prepared for this shift in the workforce. Lets face it: our members are getting older and a high proportion will be retiring in the next ten years. The Aboriginal population is growing while the non-Aboriginal population is declining. Unions will have to adapt to the new generation of workers and fight to protect their rights in the workplace.

The presence of Aboriginals in the workplace challenges unions to ensure that they respond to the needs of all members. Unions must ensure workplaces represent the community in which they work. Workplaces with small numbers of Aboriginal workers may be prone to racial conflict or misunderstanding because the majority of employees have not been sensitized.

Aboriginal organizations speak on behalf of Aboriginal people on a variety of important issues such as treaty rights, social and economic conditions and cultural and political rights. They do not, however, represent Aboriginal workers in the workplace nor do they bargain wages, benefits and working conditions on their behalf.

Some Aboriginal workers are already members of our union and other unions, but are not active in the union. We need to reach out and find ways to make Aboriginal workers feel a part of the union. Many Aboriginal workers are unorganized and do not benefit from the protections of a collective agreement. If Aboriginal workers want to organize a union, we need to be ready to support them.

Myth #7

The treaties were signed a long time ago. Why are First Nations still making land claims?

The Facts:

The four treaties signed in this region were signed before Saskatchewan was a province. The treaties were signed between First Nations and the federal representatives of the Crown and provided certain benefits to First Nations in exchange for access to land and resources. The treaties were not real estate transactions but agreements that outline a continuing relationship and obligations between two peoples. As non-Aboriginal people, we continue to enjoy benefits from the wealth generated from these lands.

In some parts of Canada, such as British Columbia, treaties were never signed and First Nations have fought for recognition of their land claims. The Nisgaa First Nation in British Columbia recently achieved an agreement with the provincial and federal governments on their outstanding land claim that the Campbell government is now attempting to overturn.

In Saskatchewan, many of the land claims result from governments not recognizing what had been agreed to in the treaties, or the reclaiming of land that was taken away by unscrupulous means or encroached upon over the years. These longstanding debts to First Nations must be paid if Canada hopes to clear its obligations to the original landowners of this country.

As trade unionists, we expect the employer to fulfill the terms of a collective agreement. If the terms of that agreement are not met, unions have the legal recourse of filing a grievance or an unfair labour practice against the employer. We should also expect our governments to fulfill their legal obligations to First Nations for outstanding land claims.

Sources: Assembly of First Nations, Myths and Realities,2001; Don Moran, Employment Equity: Eliminating the effects of discrimination, Briarpatch, October 1997; CUPE, Affirmative Action: 10 Myths; Saskatchewan Finance; Sask Human Rights Commission; Office of the Treaty Commissioner. CUPE Research September, 2002 CS:ng opeiu 491