Montreal

Bell settles $178 million pay equity dispute

Bell Canada has tentatively settled a long-running pay equity dispute with thousands of its mainly female staff for $178 million.

Bell Canada has tentatively settled a long-running pay equity dispute with thousands of its mainly female staff for $178 million.

More than two-thirds of the settlement – $128 million – is set aside as a cash payout. The other $50 million is for pension improvements.

The deal was brokered by representatives of the phone company and the Canadian Telecommunications Employees' Association (CTEA), the union representing 96 per cent of the employees involved in the dispute.

"We are pleased that discussions with the CTEA have resulted in a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute that enables us to move forward as a stronger company," Bell Canada CEO Michael Sabia said.

"Major landmark": union

The settlement must still be ratified by the union membership. In 1999, a previous pay equity settlement worth $60 million was rejected by Bell staffers.

CTEA president Brenda Knight called the deal "a major landmark." She said she was confident the deal would be ratified in voting later this month.

"It provides them with substantial amounts of money in a very short time-frame, and it may end a long and costly litigation the outcome of which has been highly uncertain," she said.

For the past 10 years, Bell has been fighting with thousands of unionized workers who say they're owed raises of as much as 20 per cent going back to 1992.

The request for salary adjustments was based on a study of the work performed by telephone operators, clerical staff, sales associates, and others. Most of those employees were women. Their salaries were compared with other job functions that were dominated by men.

Effect on earnings

Bell Canada parent BCE said the settlement would result in a one-time $37 million charge to earnings after tax in the third quarter.

Bell Canada has also held pay equity talks with another union – the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers union – which represents the other 4 per cent of Bell workers who have filed pay equity claims. Bell said it was willing to resume negotiations with the CEP.

"Breakthrough"

The head of Concordia University's women studies program, Lillian Robinson, says the Bell Canada deal could influence other companies to settle outstanding pay equity issues.

"If this is an agreement or a proposal that the working women can agree to then that is a tremendous breakthrough," Robinson says. "And it has implications for women who work in all sorts of jobs where there is a division between what women do and what men do."

The union says the deal will end a long and costly litigation.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on a pay equity case involving Bell Canada's operators union, the CEP, in December.

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