Quebec Human Rights Tribunal holds that students are entitled to same wages as those of other employees in the same role

The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal (the “Tribunal”)1 recently ruled that offering a wage rate to student employees that is lower than that of casual and regular employees doing the same work is discriminatory.

The Tribunal noted that students are protected by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”) with respect to a discriminatory practice based, in this case, on social condition and age. According to the Tribunal, being a student is a social condition – students are generally considered part of a “lower class of workers” – and their social condition is a distinction under the Charter given that the students were a minority of the unionized employees, that negotiations took place outside their periods of hire, and that they were never asked to vote on their wage conditions. Age was also a distinction under the Charter, since students are hired at a younger age than most of the casual employees.

According to the Charter, a difference in salary or wages based on experience, seniority, years of service, merit, productivity or overtime is not considered discriminatory if such criteria are common to all employees. However, that must be demonstrated by the evidence.

Further to its detailed review of the evidence, the Tribunal concluded that the students were carrying out work equivalent to that of the company’s casual and regular employees. Furthermore, it was not demonstrated to the Tribunal that the difference in the student’s wages was justified pursuant to the Charter, namely by experience, seniority or merit review.

The Tribunal noted that:

  • The students worked in the same dangerous and potentially toxic environment as the regular and casual employees.
  • The students were as competent as the regular and casual employees.
  • From the first day of work, casual employees earned more than the students who were on their fourth period of summer work and who may have worked as many times during the holiday season.
  • When students worked overtime, they were paid the same rate as casual employees.

Discussion

Quebec employers subject to the Charter should be careful when establishing the wage conditions of their employees. Note that the Tribunal’s decision only addressed wage conditions. Under the Charter, the words “salary” and “wages” include the compensation or benefits of pecuniary value connected with the employment. It remains to be seen if the decision could be applied to pension and benefit plans.

However, with respect to pension plans, it is important to note that the Quebec Supplemental Pension Plans Act (SPPA) already provides that employees are entitled to become members of a pension plan, on the same conditions as those applicable to other members, if their employment is similar or identical to that of members belonging to the class of employees for whom the plan is established and if such employees meet the minimum membership requirements of the SPPA (i.e. 700 hours or 35% of the Maximum Pensionable Earnings), unless another plan providing similar benefits in which the employees are eligible for membership is established.

If a pension plan allows membership from the date of hire, students and temporary or casual employees cannot be prevented from joining the plan if they do similar or identical work to that of other members covered by the plan.

We note also that the Quebec Labour Standards Act now prohibits “orphan” clauses, i.e., differences in treatment with respect to pension plans or other employee benefits based solely on the hiring date of employees who perform the same tasks in the same establishment. For more information on this matter, please see our July 2018 issue of News & Views.

Leave has been requested to appeal this decision to the Quebec Court of Appeal. Given the important issues the decision raises, we will be following the case with interest.


1  Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (Beaudry et autres) c. Aluminerie de Bécancour inc., 2018 QCTDP 12.


News & Views - October 2018 (PDF)