Quebec Human Rights Tribunal, Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission v. University of Laval, 2 August 2000, No. 200-53-000013-982, 2000 CanLII 3 (QC T.D.P.)

Protection against discrimination in employment and occupation
Role of International Law:
Reference to international law to strengthen a decision based on domestic law
Type of instruments used:

Ratified treaties;1 Instrument not subject to ratification2

Discrimination on the grounds of sex/ Establishment of an equal pay system within the University/ Challenging of the discriminatory nature of that system/ Reference to international law to strengthen a decision based on domestic law

The Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission had brought a case before the Human Rights Tribunal claiming that Laval University had introduced an equal pay system with discriminatory effects based on sex. More specifically, whereas the work performed by the employees in two different working groups had been assessed as being equivalent, the employees in the administrative sector, most of whom were women, enjoyed a less advantageous salary structure than those in the male-dominated specialist and service sector.3

The Tribunal referred to international law to give force to its argument based on article 19 of Quebec’s 1975 Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms that the equal pay system established by the University infringed the right to obtain equal pay for equivalent work4.

The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal drew upon ILO Convention No. 100, ILO Recommendation No. 90 and the relevant United Nations treaties in determining that domestic law must be interpreted in accordance with the international obligations of the State.

The Tribunal referred to the definition of ILO Convention No. 100’s principle of equal remuneration in the following terms:

“The adoption of this principle laid the basis for equal treatment of men and women and made it possible to tackle the problem of jobs being undervalued because they have been traditionally performed by women.[…]

According to the International Labour Conference, job classification must be impartial if wage rates are to be determined according to the equal remuneration principle laid down in Convention No. 100. The process must involve methods that make it possible to do an objective appraisal of the duties jobs involve.

Convention No. 100 and Recommendation No. 90 marked a turning point in the recognition of the causes of wage discrimination against women. By replacing the principle of “equal pay for equal work” with the less narrow one of “equal remuneration for work of equal value”, the ILO acknowledged the systemic basis of wage discrimination stemming from the various components of remuneration systems.”5

Because of article 19 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, and referring to international law to give force to its case, the Tribunal ruled that the University of Laval had violated the right to equal treatment of the workers in the administrative sector by not paying them remuneration equal to that of their colleagues in the specialist and service sector, given that they performed work of equal value.

1 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979.

2 ILO Recommendation on Equal Remuneration, 1951 (No. 90).

3 See paragraph 1 of the decision.

4 Article 19 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms states that: “Every employer must, without discrimination, grant equal salary or wages to the members of his personnel who perform equivalent work at the same place. A difference in salary or wages based on experience, seniority, years of service, merit, productivity or overtime is not considered discriminatory if such criteria are common to all members of the personnel. Adjustments in compensation and a pay equity plan are deemed not to discriminate on the basis of gender if they are established in accordance with the Pay Equity Act (chapter E-12.001).”

5 Paragraphs 122, 125 and 126 of the decision.

Full text of the decision