Student Summer Work: Does a Lower Salary Constitute Discrimination?

June 5th, 2018

By Vincent Chartier, lawyer

On May 11, 2018, the Human Rights Tribunal rendered a judgment that could have a major impact on employers hiring students over the summer period. Here is a summary of the facts relevant to this case.

Details of a Ruling with Serious Consequences for Employers

The employer, ABI, operates a smelter and a plant producing and transforming aluminum products. For several years the company has been hiring students over the summer to replace occasional and regular employees who take time off for their vacation. Yet, these students are paid a much lower salary.

United Steelworkers filed a complaint with the Human and Youth Rights Commission, alleging that the students’ payment conditions were discriminatory with regard to the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms as they were paid at an hourly rate that was lower than that of the other workers performing the same work. It is important to note that the trade union had accepted this pay inequality as part of a final offer during collective bargaining negotiations.

A Pay Gap Considered Discriminatory

In a 97-page ruling, Judge Magali Lewis states that the students’ pay conditions violate their right to recognition and their equal right to equal pay, as they perform the same work as the occasional and regular employees.

The judge argued that the students’ age and social conditions were used as grounds for discrimination, as what distinguished the students from the occasional and regular employees was the fact that they were full-time students outside of the employment periods given in the collective bargaining. She also argued that the difference in pay disadvantaged the students who had chosen to continue their studies, compared to the older employees who had been on the labour market for longer.

She ruled that ABI must award the students damages in the form of the amounts necessary to compensate for the losses resulting from the salary differences, i.e. what they were paid compared to what they should have been paid. In addition, she ordered the company to pay each student $1,000 in moral damages for violation of their dignity.

This ruling could have serious consequences for employers as the practice is current with many of them. Note that ABI will appeal the ruling. We will keep you up-to-date with proceedings.

For more information, contact our Employment and Labour Law team.