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The Question

I am a machine operator at a manufacturing company in Ontario. There are four packaging lines running on my shift and I have to manage two lines simultaneously while the other two operators manage one line each at a time. Since we all are getting the same pay, I complained several times to human resources, my manager and union representatives. But even though union representatives and other employees agree that I am facing discrimination at work, management is not willing to implement a rotation system or even a hike in my pay. Please tell me how to get justice and where to file complaints.

The First Answer

Alison Longmore, Partner, Jewitt McLuckie & Associates, Ottawa

Your remedy depends on a number of factors. You mention discrimination, but not whether you believe that this discrimination is based on a prohibited ground (i.e. race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, etc.) under the Ontario Human Rights Code or if you mean that the fact that you are responsible for two lines when others are responsible for one line, is discriminatory in and of itself.

If you believe your employer has treated you unfairly based on a protected ground, your union may file a grievance or you may file a complaint directly with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Any complaint to the tribunal must be filed within one year of the event giving rise to the complaint.

Otherwise, your only legal remedy is to pursue a grievance through your union. Be aware, however, that management is permitted to assign work to employees as it sees fit unless there are specific limits set out in your collective agreement. A rotation or other scheduling system would normally be negotiated through collective bargaining. The only other limit on the employer’s right to manage its workforce is that it must act reasonably. If your union agrees that the employer is acting unreasonably or that the employer has breached the collective agreement, it may file a grievance. Depending on your collective agreement, it may also assess whether to pursue a classification grievance on the basis that your job duties have changed significantly and warrant an increase in pay.

The Second Answer

Stacey Reginald Ball, Principal, Ball Professional Corp., Toronto

There are potential statutory remedies, but you will first have to use internal union appeal procedures. The union local should be contacted (not just the plant representative) to determine if the union will order the plant representative to file a grievance. The employer’s conduct could be contrary to the collective agreement. Employer conduct based upon a prohibited ground contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code (e.g. gender, race, religion etc.) warrants a human rights complaint. If the employer creates an unsafe work environment or engages in harassment, there could be an occupational health and safety complaint.

Should the union still refuse to file grievances in relation to any of the above, a statutory complaint could be lodged with the appropriate government body. If the union refuses to file a grievance in relation to a breach of the collective agreement (and this conduct may very well be a breach), a duty of fair representation complaint could be filed with the Ministry of Labour. If the union and the employer refuse to act on an occupational health and safety issue, a complaint could again be could lodged with the Ministry of Labour. Should the union and employer refuse to act on a valid issue in relation to the Ontario Human Rights Code you can file a complaint against both the employer and the union directly with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Unions, for political reasons, hate these types of complaints and the mere threat of them often cause unions to act.

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