Ruling could paralyze Canada's human rights process: union

Supreme Court hears Bell Canada's arguments on why the human rights tribunal should not hear pay equity case

The union representing Bell Canada’s operators said staff have been “on hold” long enough and the phone company should pay up.

Brian Payne, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) made the comments as the Supreme Court heard arguments from Bell whether or not the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal can hear the case.

According to the union, Bell Canada is arguing it can’t get a fair hearing before the tribunal to settle the pay equity dispute with 4,000 operators because the tribunal isn’t independent or impartial. Only about 400 are still employed by Bell. On May 24, 2001, the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed Bell’s objections, ruling the tribunal was in fact independent and impartial.

“If the Supreme Court does the right thing and confirms that the human rights tribunal, created by an act of parliament, is valid, then Bell will be forced to sit down with us at the tribunal and talk about the pay discrimination which they’ve already confirmed exists,” said Payne. “No more stalling tactics.”

Payne said if Bell wins its case, Canada’s whole human rights process could be paralyzed until the federal government intervenes.

He said the hearing was a “shameful abuse” of the legal process by a powerful corporation with deep pockets.

“I hope the Supreme Court puts an end once and for all to this abuse of the legal process,” said Payne. “Our telephone operators have been waiting for more than 10 years for the money they are owed — money that a joint study by Bell and CEP concluded they were owed from 1992 onward. Bell has put them on hold long enough.”

CEP represents 150,000 members working in the forestry, energy, telecommunication and media industries.

Last year, Bell Canada reached an agreement with the Canadian Telecommunications Employees' Association (CTEA), the union representing 96 per cent of the employees involved in the dispute, agreeing to pay $178 million.

It included a cash payout of about $128 million and related pension benefits of about $50 million. Workers were to receive between $500 and $30,000, with an average payout of $6,500.

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