Regina: Three school employees in the Potashville School Division a region that encompasses Esterhazy and Langenburg - won an important UI appeal in the Tax Court of Canada, which their union says has far-reaching implications for school support staff across the province.
Lori Sutherland, a teaching and library assistant in Esterhazy High School, along with co-workers Marjorie Deschambault and Veronica Ulmer, decided to launch the appeal after they were denied UI benefits during the Christmas break in 1997.
In contrast to teachers who are paid an annual salary, most school support workers are paid by the hour. When the schools are closed for mid-winter breaks or holidays, they receive no income. Since support workers in Potashville only earn $19,000 - $22,000, many depend on unemployment insurance.
We had always collected UI during the summer time, Lori states. Then
we went to a union meeting and learned we also could apply for benefits at Christmas and Easter. But when we applied [in 1997], we were denied.
Support workers in several other school divisions also had difficulties obtaining benefits, even through the summer. The federal government changed UI in 1997 to make it tougher to qualify.
A recent Canadian Union of Public Employees membership survey of school support workers found 204 of the 1,081 respondents had been denied UI benefits at some time in the last 10 years. The majority of the denials 69% - occurred since 1997. The two most common reasons for UI denials were insufficient hours and the assertion that school employees worked year-round.
It was this latter claim, supported by a Revenue Canada decision, which was used to deny benefits to the Potashville School workers.
Both the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represented the workers, and the Potashville School Board disputed that claim. They noted under the collective agreement, school support workers are paid for 10 months and receive their vacation pay on each cheque.
Revenue Canada also maintained school breaks dont constitute a true lay-off because the employee/ employer relationship is not permanently severed.
The Potashville workers appeal was heard last summer.
In his decision released last month, Judge Michael Porter supported the right of school support staff to receive UI benefits. He dismissed Revenue Canadas claim that the school workers receive an annual salary and ruled a school break constitutes an interruption of earnings under the Employment Insurance Act.
Don Moran, the CUPE staff member representing the Potashville school employees, hailed the decision. Weve always maintained that these employees are entitled to UI benefits during the school breaks. Now, theyre finally going to be able to collect those benefits.
Although the tax court decision is retroactive to 1997, only school employees who filed UI claims will be compensated.
CUPE represents about 3,500 school employees in the province.
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For more information call Don at the Regina CUPE office,
525-5874 ext. 228