Bell loses a battle in pay-equity war

Important ruling could have far-reaching implications for Canada's human rights process

Bell has lost an important fight in its multi-million dollar court battle over pay equity for its operators and clerical staff.

The Federal Court of Canada’s appeal ruling overturned a decision from last fall that said Bell couldn’t get a fair hearing at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The decision dismissed Bell’s objections, ruling that the tribunal is independent and impartial.

The ruling could have far-reaching implications for Canada’s human-rights process. It has already affected other cases which have been on hold pending the decision, including a case involving the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and Canada Post Corporation, and another involving PSAC and the Government of the NorthWest Territories.

About 4,000 current and former Bell operators and 18,000 clerical workers in Ontario and Quebec – mostly women – say Bell owes them raises of between 10 and 20 per cent, retroactive to 1992. That would put their wages on a par with those of male telephone technicians.

Bell Canada offered to settle the dispute for $60 million in 1999, but that offer was rejected. The unions are looking for about $150 million.

The unions involved in the dispute, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union and the Canadian Telephone Employees Association, were awarded costs.

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