GNWT won’t give up pay equity fight



The GNWT refuses to concede a loss in its dispute with its employees over pay equity.

The territorial government will try to bring its case before yet another court ­ this time the nation’s highest court.

Finance Minister John Todd responded to last month’s Federal Court of Appeal decision, which ruled that the Canadian Human Rights Act does apply to the GNWT.

The territorial government has been arguing that human rights and equity complaints are under the jurisdiction of the NWT Fair Practices Act, not the federal act.

The territorial government has been in a dispute with the Union of Northern Workers since 1989 when the union complained that the GNWT was discriminating against its female workers in pay and classification matters in violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

GNWT wants day in court

Not satisfied with the lower court’s decision, the GNWT wants to present its case before the Supreme Court of Canada.

“At the centre of the issue, we must deal with what, for us, is a fundamental question regarding the application of the Canadian Human Rights Act in the Northwest Territories,” said Finance Minister John Todd.

“Our government believes that this federal legislation should not intrude on the management and direction of the public service.”

The GNWT could be on the hook for as much as $70 million in pay equity compensation to current and former female employees if it loses this long-standing court battle.

Union not surprised

Union of Northern Workers President Jackie Simpson had hoped the GNWT would work with the union to settle the dispute, but she’s not surprised with the government’s decision to appeal to the higher court.

“I think this is a strategy to delay anything from moving forward,” Simpson said. “The other step was that they apply for conciliation and they come and sit down and try to resolve the problem.”

Simpson said she thought the pressure from some MLAs after the last judicial ruling might have prompted cabinet to agree to settle the dispute out of court.

“This is one of the issues I would have thought they might want to resolve as one territory instead of spreading it out and having to deal with it when Nunavut comes about.”

But the case might never even go before the Supreme Court of Canada. That court must decide if there are grounds enough to bring the case before the higher authority. That decision could take several more months.

“My hope is that the Supreme Court will look at it, because the ruling was so strong and it was sent from the bench of the Federal Court of Appeals, my hope is that the Supreme Court won’t take part in dragging it out,” Simpson said.

Todd said, however, it ‘s not the issue of pay equity that’s being challenged but the right of an outside body to dictate how the GNWT governs.

“What is being challenged is interference by a federal agency in a matter that is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Northwest Territories,” he said.

It is fundamental that the Northwest Territories, like the other provincial and territorial governments in Canada, has exclusive jurisdiction over matters pertaining to its public service, Todd said.

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