5 - Advancing equity and inclusion

Learn more about our recommendations for advancing equality and inclusion, or click here to download the full report.

5.1 Developing more equitable and inclusive workplaces

The auto sector in Canada continues to advance diversification efforts, including by providing new job opportunities for indigenous workers, workers of colour, women, LGBT persons and people living with disabilities. Recent federal $10 per day childcare agreements with provinces, as well as efforts to focus on gender equity in hiring practices at the restarted GM assembly plant in Oshawa, signal that important steps are taking place, and serve as a foundation upon which to build.

Despite these and other creative efforts championed by Unifor through collective bargaining, to make good auto sector jobs more accessible and inclusive, including the creation of a Racial Justice Advocate program across unionized auto plants in 2020, the auto sector continues to lag on diverse workforce representation. Women, for instance represent approximately one-quarter of workers in Canada’s auto industry (23 per cent in assembly plants; 25 per cent in parts facilities), which falls below the share of women in Canada’s manufacturing sector overall (28 per cent).

Employment in Automotive Sector by Gender, 2006-2019

Blue, red, and purple line graph of employment in automotive sector by gender from 2006 to 2019.

Source: LFS Custom Request, 2020, Statistics Canada

Indigenous workers, who comprise roughly 4 per cent of the Canadian workforce, are under represented in auto jobs as well (2.5 per cent in auto assembly; 1.9 per cent in parts).

In the auto parts industry, black women and other women of colour represent 11 per cent of the workforce, which is slightly higher than their representation in the overall Canadian workforce (10 per cent). However, in higher wage auto assembly jobs, these workers represent only an estimated 4 per cent of the workforce. Further, women’s participation in the skilled trades remains very low, representing approximately 6.5 per cent of key auto-related trades occupations.

Compounding these diversity challenges is a persistent gender pay gap in Canada’s auto sector ($1.48 per hour in assembly; $3.82 per hour in parts). Likely due to above-average rates of unionization, this auto industry gap is narrower than the manufacturing sector as whole ($4.43 per hour).

White scale over a red background of an auto assembly plant showing the gender pay gap with female and male symbols and text $1.48 for auto assembly workers and $3.82 for parts sector workers.

Encouraging greater diversity in Canada’s auto sector across all under-represented groups must be an objective of employers, governments and unions alike. Expanding hiring practices and establishing strong workplace-based supports that are inclusive of women, Black workers and Indigenous workers, workers of colour, people who have immigrated to Canada and workers with disabilities, creates needed economic opportunities.

  • Employment Equity laws act as a guideline through which employers must work proactively to establish barrier-free employment opportunities and working conditions for historically marginalized groups, specifically women, indigenous peoples, workers with disabilities and workers of colour.

    Systemic discrimination and deeply rooted social and cultural biases create artificial barriers that can exclude workers from job opportunities and career advancement, as evidenced by the labour market outcomes outlined above. These barriers, if not broken down, can divide workers, break lines of solidarity and limit collective bargaining power. Legislating Employment Equity in all jurisdictions is an important step governments can take. Requiring employers in both public and private sectors to identify workplace barriers, devise plans that ensure equal access, opportunity and greater worker representation, monitor job placements and promotions, and conduct regular systems reviews in collaboration with unions, will go a long way to address the historic underrepresentation of equity-seeking groups in the auto industry.

  • Creating opportunities for historically marginalized and under-represented groups to secure jobs in the auto sector requires collaboration among various industry stakeholders. Governments can assist by allocating funds to offset costs to employers that commit to hire, train and retain workers from marginalized groups, contingent on employment equity action plans and systems reviews in place. Such a program can operate in conjunction with the proposed national skills assessment and inventory and can build on efforts undertaken by the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association through its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Fund.

5.2 Building an auto industry through reconciliation

The shift to EV production is an opportunity to grow Canada’s auto industry, and secure good jobs across all areas of a burgeoning supply chain. Canada has all of the ingredients, from mines to manufacturing, to build a forward-looking powerhouse industry that grows the economy while reducing Canada’s carbon footprint at the same time. However, it is imperative that government strategists and policymakers understand the perils of this plan without a full and proper acknowledgement of Canada’s repressive colonial past and its obligations to Indigenous Peoples and their land.

As part of its truth and reconciliation commitments, the federal government passed into law the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous People in 2021. This legislation requires government to ensure all federal laws are consistent with the Declaration’s terms, including requirements that Indigenous Peoples have “free, prior and informed consent” before Canada can permit any mining project. Projected growth in EV production will require a significant expansion in nickel, lithium and copper demand by the auto industry, inevitably resulting in the construction of new mines.

According to one estimate, Canada must build seven new nickel mines, two smelters and one refinery over the next 30 years simply to maintain its global share of nickel production. Assurances that such discussions over new mining projects happen in consultation and with the consent of Indigenous Peoples, in line with UNDRIP, is paramount. Mining firms must govern their projects under the strongest environmental standards, including the use of sustainable and energy inputs, maximize the economic benefit to Indigenous and Northern communities and commit to after-life land reclamation.

  • The principles of free, prior and informed consent, as committed under UNDRIP legislation, must be operationalized by federal and provincial government officials to facilitate meaningful, respectful and constructive dialogue between Indigenous communities and developers. A January 2022 report produced by the British Columbia First Nations Energy and Mining Council provides useful guidance for consent-based approval and regulation of new mining sites, from permitting to land reclamation and restoration, in a manner that upholds Indigenous self-determination, self-governance and human rights.

  • Governments must draw links between significant upstream industrial development projects and local job growth, skills training, revenue sharing and community and infrastructure development in Indigenous and Northern communities. Promoting and brokering the negotiation of fair share agreements between developers and Indigenous and Northern communities is one tool to maximize local benefits and can work in tandem with incentive-based programs to promote new Indigenous-led start-ups and Indigenous ownership of local suppliers. Such agreements can contain revenue sharing commitments with Indigenous Band Councils and local governments along with local hiring requirements, contracts with local Indigenous businesses and suppliers. These may also include commitments to empower local and Indigenous community oversight of a project’s environmental standards as well as co-ownership through equity shares.