Mr. Speaker, 20 years ago, Madam Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella, sole commissioner and author of the 1984 Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, paved the way for workplace equality. Her theories on equality and discrimination served as the basis for jurisprudence concerning human rights in Canada. They also had repercussions in several other countries, including New Zealand and Northern Ireland.
In January 1985, in response to the Abella report, the federal government of the day, of which I was a member, adopted Bill C-62, an act respecting employment equity. The purpose of the act was to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person shall be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability and, in the fulfilment of that goal, to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.
Employers subject to the legislation have four obligations: first, to collect information on the presence of members of designated groups in their workforce; second, to analyze underrepresentation of designated groups in each occupational group in their workforce; third, to review their employment systems, policies and practices to identify employment barriers; and last, to prepare a plan describing how they intend to eliminate barriers and adopt positive policies and practices for hiring, training and promoting persons in designated groups.
As well, in relation to the obligations of employers who are subject to this act, and in relation to the consolidation of the information received, I had the honour, a few minutes ago, of tabling the 2005 annual report on employment equity, in both official languages, pursuant to section 20 of the Employment Equity Act. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Employment Equity Act. Here in this very chamber, as a member, I spoke in favour of the Employment Equity Act when it came into force in 1986. I was proud to be part of the team in the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, which was going to be an historic turning point in the development of the labour market and the Canadian employment mosaic. I continue to strongly support the full participation of all Canadians in our economy and in the advancement of our society, working together with my prime minister.
The findings in this most recent report, which I tabled a few minutes ago, show that there has been undeniable progress, since the four designated groups—women, members of visible minorities, aboriginal people and people with disabilities—are now better represented in the labour market.
If we compare the findings in this report and the figures for this year with the figures for 1987, we see that there has been progress in the representation of members of the four designated groups. It has grown by 38.3%. Women’s share has risen from 40.9% to 43.4%; for members of visible minorities, the numbers rose from 5% to 13.3%; for aboriginal people, from 0.7% to 1.7%; and for people with disabilities, from 1.6% to 2.5%.
Clearly, we have made progress in the area of employment equity since this act came into force 20 years ago. At first, some employers were afraid that the strategy was hard to define and complex to implement, but over the last 20 years we have succeeded in making workplaces responsive to the needs and concerns of all employees, women or men, regardless of their culture or physical characteristics, and we continue to make progress in that direction.
We know that if we give women, members of visible minorities, aboriginal people and people with disabilities equal opportunities in the labour market, we can not only strengthen Canada by achieving the objectives set out in the Employment Equity Act, but also take measures that are in fact sound management practices, and make the workforce more productive and more competitive.
As well, we have learned that diversity in our workplaces makes us strong. This means that our work on eliminating discrimination and promoting equity in employment has borne fruit.
At this point, I would like to salute the ongoing effort and commitment of employers to guaranteeing equity, inclusion and equality in the workplace in all federally regulated sectors. The numbers show that we, government and employers, have made consistent progress. But we still have challenges to meet. We recognize that we have to continue working to bridge the gaps that exist in respect of the four designated groups.
We are determined to stay the course, our objective being to reach a level of representation that reflects the available workforce in those groups. We will therefore continue to ensure that Canadian workers have equitable access to job opportunities, based on their skills and their representation in the Canadian population.
In recent years, the Employment Equity Act has also facilitated the realization of many other goals aimed at making workplaces fair, equitable and accessible for all Canadians. However, workplaces are evolving and we must ensure that they adequately meet current needs. Hence the importance of the five-year review of the act, which will take place shortly, and the review by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
As Minister of Labour, I can certainly promote equity in the workplace through legislation, but I am convinced that changes in workplaces really happen when we pool our efforts. Although legislation is important, it is employers who can make the most effective changes. They are dedicated to employment equity and can make things happen. I therefore encourage employers to continue their efforts in this direction.
We know that by promoting diversity and inclusion in our workplaces, we are creating not only better workplaces but also a better Canada. This is why the government is so firmly committed to the principles of employment equity.
In closing, as Minister of Labour and a member of the government that passed this act 20 years ago, I would like to assure the House that I am determined to advance the cause of equity so that all Canadians may actively contribute to their workplace. If I were to sum up the past 20 years of employment equity, I would say that there were some shortcomings, but that we have made real progress, we are heading in the right direction and, together, we must continue to meet the challenge of employment equity for women, visible minorities, aboriginals and people with disabilities. I thank all employers for their efforts to that end.