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People walk through the parking lot at the General Motors Canada Oshawa Car Assembly Plant in Oshawa. GM says it will add a third shift at its Oshawa assembly plant and hire more people for its CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette.

OSHAWA, Ont. - As a sign that GM Canada is recovering from the worst crisis in its history, more than 600 laid-off workers will be recalled this year as the automaker adds a third shift at its Oshawa assembly plant and ramps up its factory in Ingersoll, Ont.

The automaker, which had to shut down most of its North American operations for weeks last year due to weak demand and the near-collapse of its parent company, says the changes are in response to growing customer demand for the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain.

The vehicles are currently produced at the CAMI plant in Ingersoll, in southwestern Ontario. But GM Canada plans to do some of the Equinox work at its main manufacturing location in Oshawa.

A third shift in Oshawa is will be added in October to do the work, with about 600 laid-off employees there to be recalled. All the laid-off employees at CAMI will be recalled and 70 new jobs are expected to be added by August.

"We're excited as hell. Quite frankly I've got goosebumps today," CAW president Ken Lewenza told The Canadian Press.

"We are excited and we are relieved to see actual employment as a result of the hot products General Motors has on the market today."

GM's move is timely for workers who have been hit hard by the economic downturn that brought the North American auto industry to its knees last year, he added, saying most of GM's laid-off workers have nearly exhausted their employment insurance and other social benefits.

Lewenza says his union won't spend too much time celebrating the recent hires at General Motors, but will instead focus on growing demand for vehicles and ensuring long-term security for its members.

The Canadian Auto Workers local that represents GM wokers in Oshawa has also scheduled a morning press conference in Oshawa to comment on the announcement.

GM Canada's new president, Kevin Williams, says the plans announced Friday are the latest in a series of growth initiatives for the company.

"By the end of this year, we expect to recall all laid-off production employees in Oshawa to support the new Equinox, Regal and Camaro convertible production planned there and, at CAMI, we will even be hiring some new workers - truly great news for the employees, dealers, suppliers and communities affected," Williams said in a statement Friday.

The company and its American parent were nearly felled last year by the economic downturn, which compounded years of losses for General Motors - which had been Canada's and the world's biggest automaker for decades.

After a brief stay under court protection last year and billions of dollars in financial support from Washington, Ottawa and the Ontario government - as well as concessions from its workers - General Motors has begun to get itself back into gear.

Across the country, GM employs 9,000 people in Canada - mostly in Ontario where all its parts and assembly plants are located.