Sandra Griffith-Bonaparte has worked 22 years for the government. She’s never gotten a promotion

Sandra Griffith-Bonaparte is a leading member of Socialist Action and the president of the Union Of National Defence Employees Local 70607. She ran for school board in Ottawa District on the Municipal Socialist Alliance platform, coming a close second in her first campaign. Sandra was recently interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen, during which she discussed being a victim of systemic racial discrimination by her employer, the Department of National Defence.

The government’s latest equity report indicates that while there is an improvement in representation in the public service, employees who identify as being part of equity groups are still getting underpaid. Sandra, a Black public service employee, has been at the same level for 22 years without getting a promotion, despite fighting for one.

Sandra Griffith-Bonaparte hasn’t gotten a promotion in her 22 years of working for the government. And it’s not for a lack of trying.

Despite having work experience as a high school teacher in Grenada, before she immigrated to Canada from Grenada in 1988; two undergraduate degrees from Carleton University; a Master’s of Arts and Public Ethics at St. Paul’s University and the University of Ottawa, she still does the same clerical work at the Department of National Defence.

“Time and time again, I’m either blocked, overlooked, ostracized, and this has me questioning: Why?” she says. “My story is not unique, this is happening all over in the Canadian government, in the public service, in the city, in provincial workplaces. Highly qualified, hardworking and dedicated public servants, like me, are being really kept in very low positions.”
Griffith-Bonaparte’s struggle for her own career—and financial—advancement echoes data shared in the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s latest employment equity report, which indicates that women, Indigenous people, members of visible minorities and people with disabilities continue to be over-represented in the lowest salary levels of the public service.

In its Employment Equity in the Public Service of Canada report for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier states the government is committed to working towards creating an “inclusive and diverse federal public service,” with the document outlining plans to continue modernizing self-identification methods and improving the recruitment, retention and advancement of employees with disabilities.
Fortier acknowledged there is “still work to do” to improve representation.

“As the country’s largest employer, we know that strength lies in our diversity, which is why we must continue to work to create a workplace that is truly inclusive and one that better reflects the diverse communities we serve,” Fortier said.

Between 2020-21 and 2021-22, the core public service gained 7,788 employees, according to the report. Over that time, the number of employees identifying as belonging to the four employment equity groups — women, visible minorities, Indigenous people, and people with disabilities — increased by 7,472 to a total of 161,649 (or 68.4 per cent) of the 236,133 public servants, as of March 31, 2022.

The report found that Black employees represented 20.6 per cent of the visible minority population, or 4.2 per cent of the entire core public service.
Despite growing numbers of people in equity groups, those employees were over-represented in the lowest salary levels and under-represented at the highest, the report found.

While women account for 56 per cent of the 236,133 total employees, they made up less than half all employees earning more than $75,000, according to the report. And of the nearly 95,000 employees earning in the $50,000 to $74,999 salary range, two-thirds of them are women. However, half of the 422 employees earning between $200,000 and $250,000 are women.

Indigenous employees were similarly over-represented in salary ranges below $100,000 and under-represented in all salary ranges of $100,000 and above.

Employees with disabilities and employees identifying as members of visible minorities were also over-represented among those with salary ranges below $75,000.
Though not included as an equity group, the report found that Black employees were disproportionately earning salary ranges below $75,000.

Nicholas Marcus Thompson, executive director of the Black Class Action Secretariat, which has launched a lawsuit seeking long-term solutions to permanently address alleged systemic racism and discrimination within the public service, said the Treasury Board’s latest report demonstrates that Black employees remain at entry-level positions within the government.

He said it also points to the need for amendments to the Employment Equity Act, specifically including Black employees as a separate equity group.

“It confirms that the systemic barriers are continuing with very small progress,” Thompson said. “We want real change.”
When she first entered the public service, Griffith-Bonaparte said she was paid around $30,000, a number that has slowly grown to $54,800 due to inflation.

Without being promoted, Griffith-Bonaparte said she had been stuck doing clerical work such as booking conference rooms, which has both left her in a difficult financial situation and has greatly affected her mental health, leading her to suffer from anxiety and depression. While she has applied for countless jobs within the public service in hopes of moving up, she has never been offered an opportunity to advance within her unit or other units.

Due to her low-paying salary, Griffith-Bonaparte said she started teaching singing lessons on the side in order to make her mortgage, buy food, pay utilities, and support her family. She also started working as a union representative over 16 years ago to have something rewarding to work on related to the public service, and is now the president of the Union Of National Defence Employees Local 70607 in the National Capital Region.

“Sometimes I regret ever entering the public service,” she said, “It saddens me greatly to see I’ve accomplished nothing in the federal public service at all.”

This article was first published in the Ottawa Citizen. // by Catherine Morrison // Photo By Tony Caldwell/Postmedia