Mr. Speaker, as my colleague from Lévis has already said we support Bill C-64, on which I believe we have worked very hard in committee. We heard a number of witnesses and tried in good faith to improve the bill.
It is worthwhile keeping in mind, I think, that the bill before us on employment equity goes back as a concept to 1983 and the Abella commission. The Abella commission provided us with a very clear understanding of the fact that, while individual discrimination still exists, often in the form of prejudice or negative attitudes toward certain social phenomena within our society, a more systemic discrimination still exists as well, related to the system and to certain practices, rules and usages which are still sanctioned and upon which it is not easy, as an individual, to make any impact to bring about change.
What Bill C-64 asks of us is to ensure that the composition of the labour market reflects the composition of the Canadian population. I do not see anything in such an objective that is unreasonable or beyond our grasp as a society.
When it comes to systemic discrimination, discrimination within the system, which is most certainly the hardest to get rid of, four categories of individuals have the most difficulty claiming their rightful place in the work force. First and foremost in the four groups listed in the bill are women, and we shall come back to this, since they make up more than half of the Canadian population and still lag considerably behind in the workforce, particularly where wage policies are concerned, as the member for Lévis mentioned.
The second group is visible minorities. They say we live in an increasingly cosmopolitan society. This implies there are more and more people who do not belong to the majority, who are not white, and these people also have specific problems such as getting promoted and getting a job with managerial responsibilities in the workplace.
And of course we have persons with disabilities. This has become a fact of life. Our society can expect to have an increasing number of people who are functionally challenged. There is certainly a connection with the increase in people's life expectancy, especially among women who seem to have a philosophy of life and a knack for taking care of themselves from which men would have a lot to learn.
The last group covered by this bill is aboriginal peoples. Aboriginal peoples represent approximately 4 per cent of the Canadian population but have managed to occupy only 1 per cent of the jobs available.
In federally-regulated companies with more than 100 employees and throughout the public service-more on that later-we are being asked to find ways to ensure better representation of these four groups in the labour market.
We asked ourselves two questions when considering this bill. First, whether other groups or individuals in our society suffered systemic discrimination.
It was pointed out that older workers may have been discriminated against, since it is not easy when you are laid off and lose your job, and you are 40, 50 or 55 years old, to find a job somewhere else. I think we can safely say there is some hidden discrimination against this group.
The question also arose whether in our society young people, the under thirties, also have that problem. We tried to get some statistics to have a better picture of the problems facing these people. We concluded on the basis of the information we had in committee that there was no specific indication that young people and older workers had suffered systemic discrimination during the past few years.
Under the employment equity bill, it is also possible to invoke the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The charter is a mixture of the best and the worst. The best being, of course, the will to ensure that every citizen, irrespective of his income, origins, or profession, has certain rights. I would say the worst part is the provision which attempts rather awkwardly, without reflecting much concern for the interests of Quebec, to support multiculturalism. But that is another issue. In any case, section 15(2) of the charter allows for specific measures aimed at the same designated groups we find in Bill C-64.
Why do I mention this? Because very often there is an assumption that employment equity legislation, and this includes federal as well as provincial legislation, may not be compatible with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Upon closer scrutiny that is clearly not the case, and as I said before, section 15(2) of the charter allows for measures to deal specifically with designated groups.
The overall picture, before we get into the details, is the following. There seems to be a pretty standard profile of economic discrimination on the labour market against women, persons with disabilities, aboriginal peoples and visible minorities, and the situation is not improving. I would say there are four characteristics that are a constant in access to employment for the four designated groups.
Generally speaking, the unemployment rate is higher for women, aboriginal peoples, members of visible minorities and persons with disabilities. The level of unemployment of people in these groups is often higher than the national average, despite the fact that we have had employment equity legislation since 1986. This is the first characteristic of a general economic profile.
Also, generally speaking, we can say that these people are in poorer paying jobs, that is, again as compared with the national average.
When we look at the employment profile and the type of jobs these people hold, we realize that they often occupy lower level positions, not executive or management ones. For certain groups, and I am thinking particularly of women and aboriginal peoples-I was very surprised to learn-the lower level positions are often clerical jobs, junior positions. Here again, nothing has changed since 1986.
The final characteristic of this general profile is that the people in the four designated groups are employed in jobs with low growth potential. This means that, in the course of the changes the job market will undergo in the next few years, these are the jobs that will be threatened, because of their low level of specialization.
I think it important to keep this profile in mind, because, once we realize the situation, it is impossible to rise, like some of our Reform colleagues have done, and state that everyone is equal in the labour market. It is not true that everyone is equal, and it is not true that everyone has an equal opportunity to occupy the same jobs.
But that does not mean that progress has not been made. I think we would be misinformed as parliamentarians if we did not acknowledge what has been achieved since 1986.
I would like to outline for you the percentage of jobs held by each of the designated groups in relation to the jobs held by the population as a whole.
Let us take members of visible minorities, for example. We are told that, as of the last census, they represented 9.4 per cent of the population. In 1987, one year after the Employment Equity Act came into effect, they occupied 5 per cent of the jobs in the labour market. Between 1987 and 1993, with the legislation still in effect, progress was made, because members of visible minorities now represented 8.9 per cent of the labour force.
Obviously, 8.9 per cent is lower than the absolute proportion of the population they represent, which is 9.4 per cent.
Women, of whom the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration spoke so eloquently, represent 52 per cent of the population of Canada. As we know, this is a widespread phenomenon, there is no hiding it. Just think, in 1987, they occupied 40 per cent of the jobs available on the labour market in Canada. By 1993, things had improved and women held 45 per cent of available jobs.
Nevertheless, when we analyze the figures a bit,-and this is where we realize it-we see the need for employment equity legislation. I wonder, in the case of the pages, whether we have achieved a balance between men and women. I would guess from what I have seen that, in this session, the women outnumber the men. But we will get hold of the statistics on this.
The aboriginal peoples represent 4 per cent of the Canadian population. In this case, things are really dramatic. In the case of the aboriginal peoples and persons with disabilities, progress has been particularly pitiful and there is the greatest cause for concern for us as lawmakers.
The aboriginal peoples represent 4 per cent of the Canadian population. In 1987-hold on tight, Mr. Speaker, you are in for a shock-they held .66 per cent, that is, not even 1 per cent, of jobs on the labour market. In 1993, they occupied 1.4 per cent of the jobs.
This is a recovery. There is a pressing need to change course. Handicapped people, who represent 15 per cent of the Canadian population, were holding 1.59 per cent of jobs in the work place in
1987 and 2.56 per cent in 1993. Even today in 1995, we see discrimination, a gap, an imbalance between the importance of some designated categories and their place in the labour market. This is what Bill C-64 is designed to correct, and I do not understand how a member of Parliament, a representative of the people cannot subscribe to these principles.
One thing surprised me throughout our numerous committee hearings. Of course, I do not deny that there is a cost and some paperwork attached to employment equity, but I was pleasantly surprised to note that what employers came to tell us is that an employment equity strategy is now part of a sound staff management policy.
Removing employment barriers against certain people is in everyone's interest. In a context where businesses are asked to be good corporate citizens, to maintain close links with their communities, striking just the right balance between a business and its environment is in everyone's interest. This is a provision of Bill C-64 on employment equity.
Unlike in the first few years when it was enforced, the law is no longer perceived strictly as an anti-discrimination device. It is seen as an important component of sound management and enforcement of a human resources management policy.
When we stop to think about it, there is a cost attached to delaying employment equity. If it is true that handicapped people, people with functional limitations who can hold a job are denied this opportunity, if it is true that these people represent 15 per cent of the Canadian population and that 60 to 80 per cent of them are unemployed, we must realize that there is a cost attached to this because the productivity they could contribute to Canadian society is lost to us as a society.
Provisions like this one in the employment equity bill are to be commended.
What pleased committee members the most-and this was also one of the recommendations adopted by the previous committee in the previous Parliament during the five year review-is that the Employment Equity Act will now apply to the public service of Canada as a whole.
The act previously applied to perhaps 5 per cent of employees working for some 300 employers. This act will now apply to twice as many workers, since the entire public service of Canada, which employs close to 300,000 people, will now be subject to it.
Of course-and we agree with this-, provision has been made for some organizations that will now be subject to Treasury Board regulations because of certain strategic imperatives concerning them. These organizations include the Communications Security Establishment, the RCMP, the Canadian Forces and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
All committee members expressed the wish to be subject to the Employment Equity Act once the amendments have been made.
I heard on several occasions a fallacious, hypocritical, deceitful and dishonest argument from our Reform colleagues, who told us that employment equity meant hiring incompetent people.
That is the basic argument that was used throughout our deliberations by our colleagues from the Reform Party, who do not support Bill C-64. This argument does not stand up to analysis however, because the legislator provides in the bill, more exactly in clause 56, that this is not employment equity.
It provides for three things. Employers to whom the legislation will apply because they have 100 employees or more are told that employment equity does not entail opening new jobs. We can appreciate that, in the current economic conditions, not all industrial sectors are experiencing growth.
In fact, you must admit that the government's financial plan is rather shabby, despicable and mediocre. One cannot ask that new jobs be created for the sake of implementing an employment equity policy. Employment equity does not mean creating new jobs, no more than it means setting quotas. There is no mention of this in the bill and I think it is ill-advised to say otherwise.
How will all that work in everyday life? What employers are asked to do is to prepare an annual employment equity plan and file it by June 30 with the human resources directorate. This plan must contain three things, more or less. It will have to set out how the workforce composition will be assessed. Having assessed the composition of the workforce within his business, where underrepresentation has been identified, the employer will be required to set out what measures he intends to take in order to remedy the situation both qualitatively and quantitatively.
That is a major change introduced by the bill. Not only is the employer required to assess quantitatively the composition of his workforce, but he can also provide qualitative information, which was not the case previously.
We are dissatisfied with certain aspects regarding the employment equity plan. Personally, I would have liked this plan to be prepared and implemented jointly by union and management, as a requirement. We have presented amendments to make this a joint responsibility, a mandatory and binding responsibility, because we do not think that employment equity is possible unless it is something that all parties want and agree to.
Unfortunately, this amendment was defeated and I think that the government made a major mistake there because there was a
consensus among the interested parties about this provision. In addition, we would have liked that a copy of the employment equity plan be distributed to each employee and the contents of the plan to be posted in common display areas, as provided for in the Canada Labour Code for instance, where the employer is required to post his policy regarding sexual harassment.
We believe that the bill would have been greatly improved as a result, had the government bowed to the opposition's arguments. Unfortunately, this has not been the case and we were told, quite wrongly I would say, that the employment equity plan would contain strategic information, information which, by virtue of its highly confidential nature, could put the businesses' competitive position at risk. To this, the unions and our party naturally replied: "But if all employers are subject to the same requirements and all of them have the same plan and are willing to make it available within the organization, it is hard to believe that some of them could be penalized, since this standardized policy would be implemented across the board".
To conclude, let me say that it is with great pleasure that we support a bill which, without being perfect, is a major step forward as far as employment equity is concerned.