The Supreme Court has refused to hear the case brought by the Teamsters Union a few months ago concerning preventive withdrawals for pregnant women.

It will be recalled that a pregnant woman working for a company governed by the Canada Labour Code may not be entitled to financial compensation if she has to stop working to protect her health and that of her unborn child. The same holds true under all provincial legislation except Quebec.

Marie-Êve Éthier and Caroline Robillard, both employees of Canadian National – and members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) – saw their requests for compensation refused during preventive withdrawal. These two brave women agreed to allow the Teamsters Union to take on what would become a five-year battle to protect pregnant women and their unborn children.

Two lives in danger

Marie-Êve Éthier, a Canadian National yardmaster, was a few months’ pregnant when her physician recommended that she opt for preventive withdrawal because he feared for her health and that of the fetus. She therefore asked her employer to accommodate her by reassigning her to tasks that were less risky to her health.

Although she filed her application within the timelines provided by law, the CSST refused to pay her the income replacement benefit usually applicable to workers on preventive withdrawal, claiming that employees of businesses under federal jurisdiction did not qualify.

Caroline Robillard, another Canadian National employee, was working in essentially the same capacity as Marie-Êve Éthier and suffered the same fate as her sister.

Convinced she could lose her baby if she continued working in the rail industry, Caroline Robillard also suffered financially due to the loss of income. At the time, this young woman even considered selling her home.

Because these workers, like many others who didn’t dare complain, suffered a gross injustice, the Teamsters Union took up their cause to ensure that all women would be entitled to financial compensation in cases of preventive withdrawal.

This crusade brought the union to the Supreme Court, which today refused to hear the case.

“We’re very disappointed with this turn of events,” lamented Teamsters Canada Rail Conference representative Benoit Brunet. “The Supreme Court’s decision is an affront to the rights of female workers and to equity in the workplace.”

Concurrent with the Supreme Court proceedings, the Teamsters Union lobbied federal authorities to impress upon them the importance of treating women fairly.

“I’m hoping the Trudeau government will pay attention to our demands,” said the labour activist. “The government has a golden opportunity to set an example because financial compensation for pregnant women who must opt for preventive withdrawal is a fundamental right, both for them and their unborn children.”

A long fight

2011 – Marie-Êve Éthier files an application for preventive withdrawal with the CSST.

2012 – The CSST refuses to compensate her.

2013 – The Teamsters Union files an application with the Commission des lésions professionnelles. The application is dismissed.

2013 – The Teamsters Union files an application for judicial review with the Superior Court.

2014 – The Superior Court dismisses the application for judicial review but acknowledges the issue should be brought before the Supreme Court.

2014 – The Teamsters Union brings the case before the Court of Appeal.

2015 – The Court of Appeal dismisses the Teamsters Union’s claims but acknowledges that the legislative landscape and the analytical framework have changed since the 1988 Bell Canada decision.

2016 – The Teamsters Union files a memorandum of argument with the Supreme Court.

May 2016 – The Supreme Court refuses to hear the Teamsters Union’s case.

The Teamsters represents 120,000 members in Canada in all industries. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, with which Teamsters Canada is affiliated, has 1.4 million members in North America.