The Facts

The Employer had a policy of hiring students during the summer and Christmas vacation periods in order to be able to maintain its normal production and compensate for vacation periods taken by its employees. The hiring of students is permitted by current collective agreements, but certain provisions provide that students receive lower wages than other workers.

The Union challenged this discriminatory treatment in a complaint filed with the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (hereinafter the Commission”). The Union argued that the wage rates of the students were discriminatory since the students received lower wages than casual workers, even though they were performing the same tasks. The Commission then filed a claim before the Human Rights Tribunal(hereinafter the « Tribunal ») on behalf of the union and the students.

The Commission asked the Tribunal for a ruling as to whether the wage rate for students violated an equal recognition and exercise of their rights to equal pay and fair and reasonable work conditions without distinction or exclusion based on their social condition or their age, rights protected under sections 10 and 19 of theCharter of Human Rights and Freedoms (hereinafter the Charter”).

The Decision

The Tribunal ruled that the students had suffered discrimination based upon two (2) grounds. Firstly, they were discriminated due to their social condition because students form part of a vulnerable social group since they don’t participate in the negotiation of their work conditions and are attempting to acquire the tools necessary to get established and pursue their career. Secondly, they suffered discrimination on the ground of age, because, on average, students are younger than casual workers.

Following an analysis of tasks assigned to casual workers and to students, the Tribunal came to the conclusion that the students performed equivalent work to that of casual workers. Furthermore, the Tribunal found that they also worked in the same dangerous and potentially toxic environment, received the same training, and were assigned to tasks that were just as dangerous as those assigned to full-time and casual workers.

Consequently, the Tribunal came to the conclusion that the collective agreements established a wage difference with respect to students upon two (2) prohibited grounds, i.e. their social condition and their age.

The Tribunal ordered the Employer to pay material damages to the 157 students affected by the situation equivalent to the wage losses incurred, but also ordered the payment of $1000 per person as moral damages. The Tribunal also ordered the Employer to amend its collective agreements to render it compliant with the Charter.

Notwithstanding this decision, it is important to note that a difference in remuneration for students can be justified in the cases specifically listed at section 19 of the Charter, that reads as follows : 

19. Every employer must, without discrimination, grant equal salary or wages to the members of his personnel who perform equivalent work at the same place. 
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 members of the personnel. 
Adjustments in compensation and a pay equity plan are deemed not to discriminate on the basis of gender if they are established in accordance with the Pay Equity Act (chapter E-12.001).

In this matter, the Tribunal ruled that the Employer had failed to demonstrate that any of the factors listed at the second paragraph of section 19 of the Charter justified the lower wages offered to students.

Reference : Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (Beaudry and al.) v. Aluminerie de Bécancour inc., 2018 QCTDP 12.

Practical Advice

Given the foregoing, in cases where you intend on hiring students and applying a lower wage scale as compared with other employees in your business, we recommend that you carefully consider the ground justifying the difference in order to ensure that it is Charter-compliant. 

Furthermore, since this is a significant judicial development, we will keep you informed in the event the employer decides to appeal the judgment rendered by the Human Rights Tribunal.

Please don’t hesitate to call us if you have any questions regarding the issue raised in this case.