Equity at Ma Bell
Bell Canada agreement touches off row

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 11/99) - Bell Canada's recent pay equity tentative settlement with 20,000 of its current and former employees has reignited a rift between the GNWT and the UNW.

At the centre of the dispute are the numbers involved in the tentative settlement as well as whether pay equity is better resolved through negotiated settlements or through the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Finance Minister Charles Dent pegs the average individual settlement at between $1,500 and $2,000 while UNW president Georgina Rolt-Kaiser said if Dent's figures are accurate and the settlement is $59 million for 20,000 employees, the average payout would be $2,950.

"Whoever did the math on there is out," Rolt-Kaiser said of a press release from Dent giving numbers from the Bell Canada deal.

"We have no knowledge of the Bell Canada settlement because that was done confidentially and there's no actual document referring to it," she said.

Regardless of whether the payout for Bell Canada employees was $2,000 or $2,950, Dent said "while generous, Bell's offer still pales beside the equal pay settlement offer made by the GNWT in December 1998, to the UNW and its parent organization, the Public Service Alliance of Canada."

Rolt-Kaiser said comparisons are irrelevant because there are different comparators used, there are different work histories involved and different legal arguments in the two cases.

"Comparing the two is wasteful according to our lawyer," she said.

When the UNW and PSAC rejected the GNWT's December offer, individual settlement offers, totalling more than $27 million were made to 5,333 current and former GNWT employees.

The average overall settlement for GNWT employees was approximately $5,100 while some individual payments exceeded $40,000 depending on an individual's position and years of service with the government, according to Dent.

Rolt-Kaiser questions some of the payouts to employees by saying that only 65 per cent of them were union employees and therefore the government did not need to give 35 per cent of them any money.

As for Dent, he said that with only 18 per cent of the individual offers yet to be accepted, it is now time for union officials to reconsider the mutual benefits of a negotiated solution to the equal pay issue.

"The UNW and PSAC are continuing to force a lengthy and expensive Canadian Human Rights Tribunal process," he said.

"We have already had to spend in excess of $1.5 million in legal fees defending the interests of the NWT from the union claims which total $300 million."