Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Postal workers lose "pay equity" award

Finally - after 25 years - a Federal Court overturned a Canada Human Rights Commission (HRC) decision that made a $150 million "pay equity" award to Canada Post employees. The original claim for $300 million was launched at the HRC in Sept 1983 by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which represented clerical workers at Canada Post, saying it paid lower wages to the mostly female workers of its clerical section, than to the mostly male workers in its operations section in Oct 1981. A favorable decision was rendered on 07 Oct 2005 but cut the award by 50% to $150 million.

In his judgment, Justice Michael Kelen had harsh words for the tribunal, saying there was little evidence of wage discrimination based on gender. He said the tribunal "unreasonably ignored the factual reality" that the largest group of women at Canada Post were the 10,000 women working at non-clerical jobs inside the operations group, where the pay was better.

But the judge reserved his most critical words for what he called the "unreasonable" length of the human rights case - 10 years of investigation, followed by almost 12 years of hearings. Judge Kelen condemned the human rights tribunal for failing to keep the process on a timely schedule. "[The length of ] this case offends the public conscience of what is reasonable and responsible," he said.

This case appeared politically contentious from the start and contributed to a series of missteps at the HRC. This decision may impact another recent HRC decision - Federal Nurses Win Pay Equity Battle, NP Dec 18 2007 - in favour of the claimant and filed in 2004. It was left to the parties to negotiate a settlement within 3 months (March 18, 2008) and could affect 430 nurse/administrators working for Canada Pension Plan since 1978 when the HRC came into existence.

My impression is that:
  • Lower legal standards at HRC generally do no stand up to court scrutiny and merely doubles the time and costs to defendants, creating an very unfair burden.
  • Most cases are brought against Government or Crown Corporations (and are paid for by the taxpayer) to set precedents for use against private business who would normally negotiate quickly rather than drag out litigation through the courts for years. But technological change is rendering many of these jobs redundant.
  • "Pay Equity" is another social engineering construct that is in practice almost impossible to apply as one spends years arguing over the similarity of tasks - ie is not "letter sorting" essentially the same thing as "letter carrying" but without the exercise?
  • People are not stupid. Should women see men receiving higher pay for the same level of effort they will merely apply and complain if they don't get it, unless they truly do not have the skill requirements.

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