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Saskatoon: The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal has sided with a group of CUPE university clerical workers and ordered the human rights commission to investigate pay equity complaints.

In nine separate rulings issued in July, the tribunal overruled the commission’s decision last year to dismiss a large number of pay equity complaints from CUPE members employed in clerical jobs at the University of Saskatchewan.

The significance of the tribunal’s rulings cannot be overstated,” said Aina Kagis, chair of the province’s pay equity coalition and a CUPE staff representative in Regina. “Pay discrimination continues to be the workday reality for many Saskatchewan women, and the human rights route is often they only avenue they have to address it.”

Since Saskatchewan is one of the few remaining provinces without pay equity legislation, hundreds of workers have filed wage discrimination complaints under the code over the last decade.

But last year, Chief Commissioner Donna Scott dismissed more than 100 complaints filed by CUPE members employed in group homes and at the university, stating the human rights code contained no provision to evaluate widely different jobs.

Ten university clerical workers and 39 group home workers appealed that decision to the Human Rights Tribunal.

In her July rulings on the appeals filed by the university workers, tribunal chair Karen Prisciak rejected the chief commissioner’s arguments and ordered hearings into nine of the complaints, stating the code required a “more expansive interpretation.”

Human rights legislation has the status of ‘fundamental law’ and must be interpreted liberally to fulfill its objectives,” she wrote.

Most of the clerical workers affected by the rulings have decided not to pursue their complaints because their recent collective agreement addressed some of their pay equity concerns.

The 39 CUPE group home workers are waiting for the tribunal’s decisions on their appeals.

CUPE Saskatchewan president Tom Graham says women should not have to file individual complaints and wait years to achieve pay equity. “This is a basic human right,” he said. “We need government action on this issue.”

Although CUPE represents more women than any other union in the province, the majority of the union’s 25,000 members working in Saskatchewan schools, libraries, municipalities and community-based agencies are not covered by the government’s pay equity policy.

Not one workplace has been added to the government’s pay equity policy under Premier Calvert’s leadership,” Graham added.

For the past 10 years, both CUPE and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission have been calling on the provincial government to implement pay equity legislation and establish a separate pay equity commission.

Graham says the tribunal’s rulings underscore the need for this legislation.