09/27/2011 03:28 EDT | Updated 11/27/2011 05:12 EST

Court quashes RCMP pay raise rollback, case going to Federal Appeal Court

EDMONTON - The Federal Court has thrown out a federal Treasury Board decision that rolled back RCMP pay increases.

The board decided on Dec. 11, 2008, to save money during the economic downturn by partly taking back raises that had already been agreed upon for 2008-2010.

That was challenged on behalf of all Mounties by two members of the RCMP's labour relations program and in June the Federal Court quashed the board's plan. Justice Elizabeth Heneghan said the move and parts of the federal Expenditure Restraint Act breached the Charter of Rights.

RCMP members are not unionized.

Earlier this month, the federal government lost a bid to stay part of Heneghan's ruling. Ottawa plans to challenge it in the Federal Court of Appeal on Jan. 17.

Staff Sgt. Abe Townsend, a staff relations representative, says if Heneghan's ruling stands, more than 20,000 Mounties between the ranks of constable to superintendent could recover a total of about $30 million in lost wages.

"We are hoping that the federal government will reinstate the raises in pay that were agreed upon," Townsend said Tuesday.

Senior Mountie officers are paid differently and aren't affected by the ruling.

In its motion for the stay, lawyers for the Attorney General of Canada argued that the federal government would face irreparable harm if Heneghan's order were allowed to stand.

"First, the public interest in the prudent management of government expenditure during the current period of fiscal restraint will be irreparably harmed," reads the submission for the stay.

"Second, the Treasury Board as employer will suffer irreparable harm to its labour relations. Specifically, the board will be required to decide whether to establish new terms and conditions for members of the RCMP or whether to pay them retroactive compensation."

Mounties say the two court rulings are about principle as much as dollars and cents.

Since 1996, proposals for RCMP wages and other compensation have been determined by a committee of Mounties called the pay council. The committee forwards proposals to the RCMP commissioner and the public safety minister before they are sent to Treasury Board for approval.

Salary levels are based on pay rates at major police forces across Canada, including Toronto, Vancouver and the Ontario Provincial Police.

In June 2008 the federal government approved a three-year package of pay increases for the RCMP. But when Treasury Board rolled back the increases a few months later, it did so without consulting the Mounties.

Staff Sgt. Gordon Dalziel sits on the committee and says RCMP members felt betrayed by the unilateral move. He says Ottawa negotiated similar rollbacks with some public sector unions.

"They didn't have any consultation either with the pay council or the staff relations representatives. They just rolled it back," Dalziel said. "We had an agreement here. It is a matter of trust. You broke this trust now. That's how the members feel."

Dalziel said the actual pay cuts amounted to two per cent in 2009 and half a per cent in 2010. The raises in 2008 were not reduced.

He said rank-and-file RCMP members are unhappy with the rollbacks and want the money back.

Lawyers for the Mountie staff representatives hope the federal government will reimburse officers before the January court date.

"Our lawyer will be dealing with them, looking to recover that money before the appeal happens."