Public servants win pay equity case

About 200,000 Canadian federal employees, past and present, have won another victory in their marathon fight for pay equity. The Federal Court of Canada has upheld a ruling in favour of federal public service workers in a landmark pay equity ruling.

The court says the government must pay up to $5 billion in back-pay to even out the salaries of male and female employees. That works out to an average of about $30,000 per worker.

"It's a victory for all workers," says Nycole Turmel, acting president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The Court's ruling upholds last year's decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which ordered the government to pay about 200,000 federal workers -- mostly women-- about 13 years of back pay.

Government lawyers had appealed that decision. Ottawa disputes the formula it says compared jobs of unequal value, like secretaries with auditors.

Pay equity-- paying female and male employees simlar wages for work judged to be of equal value-- has been law since 1976. But since then, the government has fought its own female workers' attempts to close the wage gap.

Part of the reason that this dispute has lasted almost 15 years is that the Canadian Rights Act, which obliges the government to uphold pay equity, doesn't specify what method should be used to close the wage gap.

Treasury Board President Lucienne Robillard hasn't said whether Ottawa will appeal the decision to the Federal Court of Appeal or even to the Supreme Court of Canada.

During question period in the House of Commons, Robillard said she plans to spend a few days studying the ruling before making any announcements.

In handing down the ruling, Federal Court Judge John Evans wrote bluntly, that the matter has "dragged on for far too long, and at far too great a cost for all concerned." And he added "justice unduly delayed... is indeed likely to be justice denied."

PSAC's Turmel is cautioning the government against launching another appeal. The union says there could be protests, sit ins and a concerted campaign against the Liberals in an upcoming by-election in Hull if the government doesn't doesn't pay up, in full.

But because there's a federal budget surplus, the union is also optimistic the government will come back with a different response this time.