When Sun News Network announced it was closing last Friday, cutting 150 full-time jobs, most of the suddenly out-of-work staff learned they would get generous severance pay. But a select few were offered much less money.
Ontario-based employees at the network were offered 16 weeks' notice – effectively severance pay as the channel went off air early Friday morning. But nine staff from the network's bureaus outside Ontario, in locations ranging from Vancouver to Halifax and Washington, D.C., received less generous offers of one to eight weeks' salary, plus two weeks' paid notice.
The discrepancy appears to arise from the way Sun News's parent company, Quebecor Inc., interprets the Canada Labour Code, which governs the station's layoffs. When an employer terminates the jobs of 50 or more employees "within a particular industrial establishment," the code says it must give a federal minister 16 weeks' notice before the termination date.
A spokesperson for TVA Group Inc., the company's broadcasting and publishing arm, said "we followed all the rules and legislation applicable to us."
Sources confirmed the final decision to close Sun News Network was made on Wednesday Feb. 11. Staff learned the news two days later.
Most of the network's employees worked in Toronto and Ottawa, which were deemed establishments with more than 50 staff, requiring 16 weeks' notice to the minister.
But the company decided the bureaus in other provinces – which had between one and four employees each – did not meet the threshold for a group layoff. Instead, staff were paid severance according to the code's less generous terms for individual terminations, leaving them frustrated at what they see as unfair treatment.
A letter from a human resources officer at Sun News, addressed to a former bureau employee outside Ontario and obtained by The Globe and Mail, confirms employees in other provinces were offered less compensation than the 16 weeks' salary presented to their Ontario colleagues.
It is uncertain whether the staff outside Ontario could challenge the terms of their severance.
"Generally speaking, these types of provisions are interpreted generously so as to provide as much protection to the employees as possible," said Stuart Rudner, founding partner at Rudner MacDonald LLP, a labour law firm. "Employment laws in Canada are designed to protect employees and not employers."