News in Brief

Stopping benefits at 65 unconstitutional: Ontario Human Rights Tribunal | Federal union calls for inquiry into Phoenix payroll system

Stopping benefits at 65 unconstitutional: Tribunal

› TORONTO — A provision in Ontario’s Human Rights Code that allows employers to reduce or terminate benefits for workers 65 years and older is unconstitutional, an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal recently ruled.

The case concerned a complaint by Wayne (Steve) Talos that the Grand Erie District School Board discriminated against him based on age because it terminated his extended health, dental and life insurance benefits without any actuarial justification when he turned 65, even though he was still working full time.

Adjudicator Yola Grant ruled that section 25(2.1) of the code, when read in conjunction with parts of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and its regulations, is unconstitutional because it violated Talos’ right to equality under the Canadian Charter.

Section 25(2.1) provides an exception to the code’s right to equal treatment in the workplace without discrimination based on age for employee benefit, pension, superannuation or group insurance plans that comply with the ESA and its regulations.

The ESA and its regulations include exceptions that allow employers to provide different levels of benefits to employees because of their age under certain circumstances.

This “creates a distinction between workers under the age of 65 and those who are 65 and older who perform the same work and are vulnerable to losing a portion of their remuneration package,” said Grant.

“(A) legislative provision that prevents a worker age 65 and older from being able to challenge any reduction or elimination of access to workplace benefits as age discrimination is a prima facie violation of s. 15(1) of the Charter.”

Federal union calls for inquiry into Phoenix

› OTTAWA — A union representing federal civil servants is calling for a national public inquiry into the federal government’s Phoenix pay system.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in June, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) said the government needed to hold an inquiry to dig more deeply into issues raised during recent reviews.

“(Recent independent reports) have uncovered disturbing details about both the development and the implementation of Phoenix,” said PSAC national president Chris Aylward. “Both the Goss Gilroy report and the Auditor General of Canada (OAG) reports clearly advise that the problems that have led to the Phoenix debacle have not been resolved. Although both reports point to significant problems, neither were tasked with making recommendations that address those.”

Phoenix replaced the government’s 40-year-old pay system. It was part of the government’s Transformation of Pay Initiative, which began in 2009 and included centralizing payroll for 46 of the government’s 101 departments and agencies at one location in Miramichi, N.B., and reducing the number of pay staff.

After the government implemented Phoenix in 2016, thousands of federal workers were overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all.

Aylward said the inquiry should address issues such as the lack of meaningful consultation with compensation advisors and public service unions when developing and implementing Phoenix, the workplace culture that led to problems, and individual and structural accountability for them.

The Treasury Board Secretariat recently announced that it would work with the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada on a “new, transparent, accurate and integrated, end-to-end HR to pay system.”

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