KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The City of Halifax is not following up on a recommendation around criminal record checks that would remove obstacles to hiring Black and Indigenous workers in its Municipal Operations Programs (MOPS) division. The policy hasn’t really changed, and the City’s employment website is as uninviting to people with even a trivial criminal record as it has always been.
MOPS employees look after ’green spaces and parks, roads, playgrounds and sidewalks, and in the winter do much of HRM’s snow clearing. There are 230 full time and 60 seasonal workers.
It never received much news coverage, but a five-months external review of the employment policies and practices at HRM’s MOPS division found that it’s a very unwelcoming workplace if you’re Black.
Racist practices widespread at division, review found
Racism is widespread at the MOPS, the 2016 report, compiled by the Turner Consulting Group, concluded. Rather than counteract, management often condones and even reinforces it. This is what the NS Advocate wrote about the alarming situation at the time.
“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. Of concern to us is not just that these incidents occurred, but that they were not immediately and effectively addressed by supervisors,” the report stated.
“The consultation with employees and interviews with supervisors suggest that the business unit is caught up 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 concluded.
Quite a few of the report’s recommendations dealt with improving hiring practices in the division, which makes sense, given that in early 2016 only 4% of the business unit’s workers were women, there were no Black supervisors or managers, and only 26 percent of employees surveyed believe that HRM does a good job of hiring qualified people.
Asking for a criminal record check at times acts as unnecessary deterrent
One such recommendation, that job seekers only be asked about criminal convictions when there is a good reason, seems to have triggered no substantive changes.
“Asking about criminal convictions may deter applicants from the African Nova Scotian and the Aboriginal communities from applying to positions as they continue to be subject to racial profiling and racism in the criminal justice system that results in over-policing and criminal convictions for minor offenses (e.g.trespassing) and wrongful convictions,” the report explained.
“As such, asking about criminal convictions when it is not a bona fide occupational requirement creates a barrier for Black and Aboriginal job seekers.”
Implementing the recommendation would benefit anybody with a criminal record who experiences unwarranted difficulties landing a job because of it. You’d think that’’s a good thing, but the City didn’t do much to remove the barrier.
Little has changed
The City’s response suggests that it is not a criminal record that HRM is concerned about as much as a sex offender status, a small subset of the criminal convictions.
“The overall safety and well being of all employees and residents is important to the municipality. Some parks and road maintenance positions have been deemed as requiring security screening in the form of criminal record checks. For example, these employees can be dispatched to work on playgrounds or near schools,” wrote HRM spokesperson Lucas Wide in late June.
It so happens that the requirement to work on playgrounds or near schools applies to just about any employee at the MOPS division. They’re outside workers. Outside is also where the schools and playgrounds are.
When you go to the Jobs page on the City’s website there is no indication that an effort was made to soften the deterrent quality of asking for a criminal record check. The website looks just as uninviting as always to somebody burdened with a criminal record, no matter how trivial that record may be.
“If you are selected, your job may be contingent on security clearance requirements (i.e., criminal records check, enhanced background check, etc.),” is all the website has to say on this matter. There is no mention whatsoever that minor infractions would not be considered a “bona fide occupational requirement” as the consultants suggests. The employment website’s Diversity and Inclusion page is also silent on the issue.
To let applicants know that a criminal record is not necessarily an obstacle to employment with the City is easy. Let’s do it.
If you can, please support the Nova Scotia Advocate so that it can continue to support voices such as Jodi’s, and to cover issues such as poverty, racism, exclusion, workers’ rights and the environment in Nova Scotia. A pay wall is not an option since it would exclude many readers who don’t have any disposable income at all. We rely entirely on one-time donations and a tiny but mighty group of kindhearted monthly sustainers.