https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2019/07/05/canada-post-spent-over-21-million-in-legal-fees-fighting-pay-equity-case.htmlCanada Post spent over $21 million in legal fees fighting pay equity case
By May Warren
Fri., July 5, 2019Canada Post spent over $21 million in legal fees fighting against correcting a wage gap between male and female employees in a pay equity case that dated back to the early 1980s, the Star has learned.
The amount has finally been revealed after the Crown corporation tried to keep it secret for six years, following an Access to Information request.
Gisèle Morneau, one of the complainants in the original pay equity case, chuckled when told about the dollar figure.
“I am not surprised. But I am disappointed that this money was spent to fight equal rights,” she said, speaking in French over the phone from her Quebec City home.
“The amount is so high that I am overwhelmed.”
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, there was a marked pay gap between the salaries of mostly male letter-carriers and mail-sorters, and mostly female clerical workers like Morneau.
Her union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, first filed a human rights complaint on behalf of 2,300 clerical workers in 1983, but Canada Post resisted and took it all the way to the Supreme Court.
In 2011, the court ruled that it had to make up half of the all the lost wages to its eligible employees.
Canada Post began sending out cheques, with interest, in August 2013. But Morneau said by that time it was too late for some of her colleagues. Several had died. All of them missed out on the opportunity to get the pay bump they wanted back at the start of their careers.
“It would have been much better for us to have this money when we were younger,” said Morneau, and probably cheaper for Canada Post.
Former Star reporter Vanessa Lu was curious about how much was spent trying to stop pay equity, and made an Access to Information request in 2013 for the total in outside legal fees spent since 1983. But Canada Post tried to keep the amount secret, releasing a series of invoices for law firms with blacked out dollar figures.
At the time, a spokesperson said it was financial information and fell under solicitor-client privilege because the case was still outstanding. The union and Canada Post were still debating over interest, following the Supreme Court decision. Lu appealed to the Information Commissioner of Canada.
Canada Post is a Crown corporation with a monopoly on mail service, and is directed to serve the people. But it’s funded by the revenue generated by the sale of its products and services, not taxpayer dollars.
This June it finally released the figures, totalling $9,496,353 from 1989 to 2000 and $11,604,729.91 from 2000 to March 2013. Lu also asked for the fees incurred from 1983 to 1989 but Canada Post responded that it no longer has the records from that period.
Canada Post spokesperson Jon Hamilton said in an email that “pay equity is a basic human right and any disparity in pay on the basis of gender is wholly unacceptable.”
Following the Supreme Court ruling “Canada Post worked in partnership with the Public Service Alliance of Canada to respect the ruling and compensate affected employees as quickly as possible,” he added.
He did not have figures for how much was paid out to employees in total, or how much Canada Post spent on internal legal fees. Payments have been made to all eligible current employees and about 12,500 former employees.
In 2016 Canada Post was ordered to hike wages 25 per cent in another pay equity case, for mostly female rural and suburban mail carriers who were getting less than their, mostly male, urban counterparts.
Helen Berry, a legal officer with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, has worked on pay-equity for years.
She’s glad the public can finally see how much the ordeal cost. But like Morneau she’s not shocked at the high cost of the legal battle.
“They fought every step of the way,” she said.
“I think they did get bad advice but I think they were also arrogant.”
Berry said the Trudeau government’s 2018 proactive pay equity law, which forces federally regulated employers to take stock of their compensation and make sure men and women get equal pay for equal work, will hopefully help avoid lengthy and costly legal fights going forward.
It applies to federal public servants, political staff, and federally regulated sectors.
Women in Canada earned 87 cents an hour for every dollar made by men in 2015, according to Statistics Canada.
That this wage gap persists, decades after the original Canada Post fight, is troubling for Morneau.
“I ask myself, why are there still employers who quibble over pay equity?” she said.
“Pay equity is not a maybe.”