Thirty years. That's how long it took for the Public Service Alliance of Canada to win its pay equity complaint against Canada Post on behalf of clerical workers. Here’s a brief timeline of Canada Post pay equity:
1983: PSAC files the complaint
In September 1983, PSAC filed a pay equity complaint against Canada Post, on behalf of the Clerical and Regulatory Group (CR) bargaining unit at Canada Post.
This complaint sought to get equal pay for work of equal value for the members of the female dominated CR group, including benefits clerks, accounts payable clerks and frontline contact centre workers at Canada Post. PSAC argued that their work was undervalued when compared to the pay of letter carriers, mail handlers and sorters in the male dominated Postal Operations Group.
The Equal Wages Guidelines say that when an occupational group has more than 500 members, as was the case with Canada Post CR workers, then it is considered to be a “female dominated group” if at least 55 per cent of its members are women. The wages received by members of this group must be compared to the wages received by the members of a “male dominated” group.
1985: The Commission investigates
The Canadian Human Rights Commission started its investigation of the complaint in October 1985. Canada Post refused to collaborate and in 1988 the Commission had to threaten to take court action unless the employer provided the information necessary for its investigation.
In 1992 the Commission released its final report, and referred PSAC's complaint to a Human Rights Tribunal for determination.
1993: The Human Rights Tribunal hears the case
The case was referred to a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in March 1992. The Tribunal began hearing evidence in February 1993. There were 415 days of hearings, between 1993 and 2003. The transcript of the hearings exceeds 46,000 pages. There were also additional hearings and arguments presented in 2003 on the relevance of a Supreme Court decision in a pay equity case involving Bell Canada.
In 2004, the chair of the Tribunal resigned. And then the Tribunal accepted written submissions on the relevance of the Federal Court of Appeal decision in another pay equity case with Air Canada. Finally, on October 7, 2005, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued a 279 page decision upholding the PSAC's pay equity complaint.
During this process, Canada Post challenged the independence of the Human Rights Tribunal, contested the validity of the 1986 pay equity guidelines and argued that other reasons – not discrimination – explained the gender pay gap at Canada Post. The corporation challenged the “comparator group” that was used by PSAC to compare the wages of the female dominant group, questioned whether or not the two groups performed work of “equal value,” and picked at the methodology used to calculate the wage gap.
2005: Canada Post challenges the Tribunal decision
Canada Post never accepted the Tribunal's decision. Starting on the day the decision was issued the corporation used every possible legal avenue to overturn it.
Canada Post successfully appealed the Tribunal's ruling before the Trial Division of the Federal Court. PSAC then appealed the Federal Court decision to the Federal Court of Appeal. After losing at this level, PSAC brought the case before the Supreme Court of Canada.
All of these interventions meant that it took decades for a group of underpaid office workers to see justice.
2011: A Supreme victory!
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of PSAC on November 17, 2011.
After hearing arguments from PSAC, Canada Post and the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Court upheld the original decision of the Human Rights Tribunal., reinstating the damages that had been awarded to PSAC members. Chief Justice Beverly McLaughlin took the unusual step of releasing the decision directly from the Supreme Court bench, speaking on behalf of a unanimous court.
Ginette Chartrand was one of the women who filed the original case against Canada Post in 1983. Speaking from the Supreme Court, she reflected on the victory:
“I attended all of the hearings in the last few years. We believed in our case. But we did not expect a decision so quickly. I cried.”
This was a hard won battle for women's equality, but it shouldn't have taken 30 years.
2011-2013: Canada Post drags its feet
The 2005 decision from the Tribunal left it to Canada Post and PSAC to determine the actual wage gap using a certain methodology. PSAC and Canada Post met regularly over several months to try and finalize a Memorandum of Agreement to ensure that the correct amount was being paid and that an appeals process would be put in place if there was any dispute about the final payments.
These discussions broke off in June 2012 when Canada Post took the position that they were only going to pay interest on 80 per cent of the principle amount owed. PSAC consulted a payroll and tax expert and obtained a legal opinion that supported our position that Canada Post had no legal authority to discount the interest payment by 20 per cent.
PSAC approached the Canadian Human Right Tribunal asking them to clarify the interest issue in its 2005 Order. Canada Post then challenged the jurisdiction of the Tribunal because only one of the original Tribunal members was still alive. The Canadian Human Rights Commission then filed the Tribunal Order with the Federal Court of Canada for enforcementPSAC then asked the Federal Court to put a “charging order” – similar to a lien – on Canada Post headquarters to pay outstanding pay equity debts.
Discussions between the parties also continued and a final agreement was reached in late June 2013 that includes Canada Post paying interest on 90% per cent of the principle amount owed. Distribution of cheques payments will began August 1, 2013.
If you are a current or former Canada Post employee and have questions about whether or not you are eligible for payments, contact Canada Post:
Canada Post Corporation
2701 Riverside Drive
Ottawa, ON K1A 0B1