Adjudicator allows grievances against CFIA to go ahead
The grievances of several Quebec employees denied overtime compensation for travel and training have been allowed to go ahead, following a June 7, 2007, decision by the Public Services Labour Relations Board in Ottawa.
Veterinarians working for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), a government body dedicated to safeguarding food, animals and plants, were required to attend training outside their normal work area. They then requested overtime compensation for time spent, beyond their regular work schedule, for training and traveling between their residences or their accommodations and the training site.
The agency compensated them for training outside their normal hours of work but refused to cover travel time to the training site.
Ten employees filed grievances in 2004, ranging from a request for compensation for 30 minutes of travel time between the hotel and training centre for each training day to more than 13 hours of travel time between Rivière-du-Loup, Que., and Winnipeg.
The dispute arose as a result of a December 2003 e-mail from human resources referring to a 2003 collective agreement with respect to compensation for overtime and travel time required to attend courses.
In addressing the “confusion” around compensation, it said employees are not entitled to compensation for overtime on days devoted entirely to training but “if they perform their usual duties during normal working hours, they are entitled to compensation at the overtime rate for hours of training following their eight-hour workday. In other words, employees are not entitled to overtime pay on days when they are engaged only in training.”
The grievors argued that mandatory attendance at training courses differs from career development, for which employees take leave with pay to improve their professional skills. They also said the agency’s interpretation was different from the past, when it had compensated travel time to training, and was never an issue before the grievances were filed.
However, CFIA argued the collective agreement makes no distinction among types of courses and time spent on training is not comparable to work time. It also said travel time for the training was equivalent to time spent traveling to work.
In addition, it said the employees did not show the travel was detrimental or a financial burden and they “derived a personal benefit from their attendance at training.”
On June 7, 2007, the adjudicator allowed the grievances, saying it is not unreasonable to compare the conditions in which an employee attends a conference to represent the employer’s interests to those in which he attends training at the employer’s request.
Therefore, compensating travel time required for learning activities “is not a practice entirely divorced” from procedures normally followed when staff attend conferences “to represent the interest of the employer” and are on duty.
In addition, “by accepting to compensate employees for hours of training exceeding their regular work schedule, the employer specifically recognized that training was akin to work.
“The employer is now being inconsistent in disassociating travel time from this observation by referring to other provisions of the collective agreement that prohibit the compensation of travel time required for attendance at training.”
In cases where the employer determines the mode of transport and time of departure and return, “I also believe that such time should be compensated,” said the adjudicator. “They are at the complete disposal of the employer during that time.”
For more information, see Lamothe c. Canada (Agence Canadienne d'In-pection des Aliments), 2007 CarswellNat 1682, 2007 PSLRB 60 (Can. P.S.L.R.B. ).
Sarah Dobson is editor of Canadian Payroll Reporter, a sister publication to Canadian HR Reporter. For more information, visit www.hrreporter.com/ccbr.