Student workers win landmark discrimination case against ABI smelter
Bécancour, Que. – Student workers have won a major victory in a human rights case against a Quebec aluminum smelter.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Quebec has ruled that the ABI aluminum smelter in Bécancour violated Article 19 of Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which states: “Every employer must, without discrimination, grant equal salary or wages to the members of its personnel who perform equivalent work at the same place.”
Quebec’s Human and Youth Rights Commission had filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal on behalf of 157 student workers at the ABI smelter who were paid up to 30% less than regular and occasional employees performing the same work.
“The distinction undermines their dignity based on the fact that it did not respect their right to equal pay for equal work, in contravention of Article 19 of the Charter,” Judge Magali Lewis stated in her ruling.
ABI must now compensate former student workers for the discrepancy between the pay they received while working at the smelter and the pay they rightfully deserved. The Human Rights Tribunal also awarded the students $1,000 in moral damages.
“This is a big victory for the ABI students that also could have a major impact in many other workplaces,” said Clément Masse, President of United Steelworkers (Syndicat des Métallos) Local 9700, which represents 1,030 unionized employees at ABI.
“We’re happy for the ABI students who had the courage to challenge a discriminatory practice. As a union, we’re proud to have helped them assert their rights and to have supported them in the complaint process. The union was involved in the case as an interested party and our advocacy was heard loud and clear,” Masse said.
The case is reminiscent of ABI’s initial demand, during the current round of collective bargaining with its unionized employees, to impose a two-tier pension system that would discriminate against new hires. In the same vein, Alcoa – majority owner of the ABI smelter – recently hired a lobbyist to oppose legislation that would prevent companies from paying lower wages to workers recruited through employment agencies.
“This company has made multiple attempts to discriminate against various categories of workers. Let’s hope that this ruling will serve as a lesson. In Quebec, equal pay for equal work is an important principle,” Masse said.
Source: United Steelworkers (USW)