Pay equity ruling could cost the GNWT $70 million

The GNWT has just lost a longstanding court case in which they tried to claim that the Canadian Human Rights Act doesn’t apply to the NWT.

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

ANNETTE BOURGEOIS

Many GNWT employees could end up with a share of $70 million in pay equity compensation.

That’s because the GNWT has just lost a major court decision on pay equity – the latest skirmish in a longstanding battle with the Union of Northern Workers.

“This is an important victory for our membership,” said UNW President Jackie Simpson. “Hundreds, maybe thousands, of workers who have suffered injustice at the hands of government have waited a long time for this decision.”

Equal pay for work of equal value

Simpson estimates the cost to the GNWT for failing to pay men and women employees equally for work of equal value is upwards of $70 million.

“That (estimate) was a couple of years ago,” she said. “I really don’t know the actual figure. I’d say it’s $70 million plus.”

Finance Minister John Todd wouldn’t comment on the amount of liability when questioned in the legislative assembly last Thursday.

“We never quantified at any time, in this government, what the cost of the pay equity situation would be,” Todd told Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco, when Picco suggested the figure was between $30 and $40 million.

Todd’s executive assistant said the finance minister had no further comment on the issue.

Battle from 1989

Justice Marceau, of the federal court of appeal, issued an oral ruling in favor of the UNW February 5. Earlier this week, the UNW and GNWT were still awaiting Marceau’s written decisions.

The battle for pay equity compensation began in 1989 when the Public Service Alliance of Canada, acting on behalf of the UNW, filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

“The basis of pay equity was passed through legislation back in 1982 through the federal government,” Simpson said.

GNWT never obeyed the law

“It meant that provinces and territories had to ensure that pay equity had to take place among their governments. In the NWT they found pay equity was not being followed. The act itself, even by 1989, wasn’t being followed. Even today it is not being followed.”

The 1989 complaint alleged that the NWT minister of personnel, as employer of the NWT public service at the time, discriminated against female workers in pay and classification matters – in violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

A long back and forth battle has since taken place in the courts between PSAC and the GNWT.

The GNWT had argued that there was a bias in the process from the beginning, because one of the investigators into the case was a PSAC member.

GNWT said no to human rights in the NWT

It also argued that the Canadian Human Rights Act does not apply to the GNWT.

When the Federal Court Trial Division accepted the GNWT argument of bias and ordered the human rights commission to redo the portion of the investigation in which the PSAC member had been involved, the GNWT appealed again. PSAC and the human rights commission also appealed.

The latest chapter came to a close last week when Justice Marceau upheld the union-human rights commission appeal and dismissed an appeal and cross-appeal by the GNWT.

He ruled there is no doubt that the Canadian Human Rights Act applied to the GNWT and there was no evidence to suggest CHRC investigators were biased.

The recent victory for PSAC means the GNWT could end up paying compensation for the past eight years, as well as two years prior to the filing of the complaint, to 1987, if a two-year retroactive clause is imposed.

Many women could benefit

Simpson didn’t know how many women could benefit from the decision.

“We could not possibly do a tally now because we’re still waiting for the court. It’s pretty hard for us to judge just on the verbal (decision).”

“There’s also a lot of tracking because it was groups that were identified in the report, different classifications of the government, and, of course, people have come and gone.”

All this might have been avoided, Simpson said, if the GNWT had been more co-operative when the union tried to negotiate a compensation package for pay equity years ago.

“We were in negotiations trying to resolve the inequity and in attempting to resolve it, the government simply said no we’re not going to.”

GNWT could appeal ruling

Justice Marceau’s judgment, though, may not be the final decision made in the case. The GNWT still has the option of challenging the ruling in the higher Supreme Court of Canada.

“I would like to suggest that I don’t see what evidence they have in order to apply to the Supreme Court,” Simpson said, “but they may come up with something they haven’t come up with.”

Without having the written decision, Todd wouldn’t comment on the ruling except to say he’d respond at a later date.

“I am not, at this time, prepared to respond, but I will, later on next week,” he said in the last Thursday. “I will respond in a timely manner, and in a manner and a time that I will determine.”

Todd told MLAs that the new system of job equity and pay equity the GNWT has been working on a should be ready by the end of the summer.

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