Quebec Court of Appeal Confirms Equal Pay Principle for Student Workers

TROIS-RIVIÈRES – The United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos welcomes yesterday’s ruling by the Quebec Court of Appeal that students hired at the ABI aluminum smelter in Bécancour, Que., should be paid the same as other employees, since they are doing equivalent work.

“We are satisfied with the ruling, which confirms all previous decisions. We are now reaching out to the employer to take note and turn the page, rather than pursuing an appeal to the Supreme Court,” said Steelworkers staff representative Alexandre Fréchette.

The Court of Appeal upheld the Human Rights Tribunal’s decision, noting that it had been “reached with remarkable thoroughness.” Thus, the Court of Appeal, the Human Rights Tribunal and the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission) recognized that the student employees at the ABI smelter were discriminated against within the meaning of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

The student workers are paid 85% of the wages of casual employees who have also just been hired to perform equivalent tasks.

“They are paid lower wages for the sole reason that they are pursuing studies, thus depriving them of the fundamental right guaranteed by the Quebec Charter to receive equal treatment for equivalent work,” the ruling states.

The three judges who signed the ruling also pointed out that, “The idea that students who work for the appellant can be ‘discriminated against’ because the wage paid is attractive compared to the minimum wage is reminiscent of other old-fashioned ideas. One can think of the proposition, now outdated, that women can be paid a lower wage because they do not need it, as it provides a supplementary income for the family. One can also think of the idea, which is also no longer valid, that immigrants can be paid a lower wage because it is more advantageous than the one they received in their country of origin. Such ideas must be rejected.”

After defending, tooth and nail, the principle of equal pay for work of equal value by calling for a ban on disparate treatment clauses that disadvantage newly hired workers, the Steelworkers union is prepared to defend this principle in support of student employees, should the Court of Appeal decision be challenged in the Supreme Court.

“This promises to be a precedent-setting decision, not only for unionized workplaces, but for all workplaces. Discrimination is not acceptable, whether it is against youth, women, immigrants or any other group. The Steelworkers will always be there to fight discrimination. It doesn’t stop us from hiring students, and it doesn’t stop us from paying interns or students differently if they are actually doing less work. But in this case, it was demonstrated in court that the tasks were equivalent. For example, the students are there for summer replacements and do not have different tasks than those of casuals,” said Fréchette.

The United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos, affiliated with the Quebec Federation of Labour, is the largest private-sector union in Quebec, representing more than 60,000 workers in all economic sectors.

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