Robyn Benson, PSAC

Pensions and our "golden years"


More than half of Canadians have no workplace pension, according to this newspaper report. In fact, the rate is closer to two out of three: eleven million Canadian workers.

Think about that for a moment.

Besides Old Age Security—for which Canadians will have to wait longer to qualify, thanks to Stephen Harper’s 2012 budget—the Canada Pension Plan/Quebec Pension Plan is all that might conceivably stand between many Canadian seniors and destitution. These days it hardly does that: the average CPP/QPP payout is about $500 a month.

In June, federal and provincial finance ministers will be meeting to discuss the future of the CPP/QPP.

The Canadian Labour Congress and our sister union, CUPE, make a strong case for doubling the current amount. Expansion of the pension is a must, in fact, to provide retirement security for all Canadians.

But expect the same voices that have been screeching about the cost of public service pensions to raise their voices once again. Why, there’s Catherine Swift, former head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. And the Fraser Institute! When you see these folks point in any direction, best go the other way.

The indefatigable Catherine Swift—now a spokesperson for the rabidly anti-union Workplace Democracy Institute—is no stranger to us, by the way. She claims the cost of public sector pensions is unsustainable, and, naturally, blames the unions—who in the federal sector aren’t even permitted to bargain pensions. The average federal public sector pension is currently about $25,000: $40,000 for those who put in all of the 35 years of service required for a full one. This isn’t poverty, but it’s hardly “gold-plated,” either. And federal public workers contribute handsomely to their retirement fund: 5.8% of salary up to $48,300, and 8.4% above that amount.

You have to dig fairly far down in this article to find the appropriate rejoinder to the naysayers, and it applies as surely to CPP/QPP reform as it does to public sector pensions:

Linda Duxbury, of Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, said private sector critics like Swift seem to be arguing that all Canadians should be dragged down to the level of private sector workers, who in many cases have no employer pension plans.

“I get tired of the groups who go, ‘Look at how well public servants are being treated.’ They seem to be saying, ‘We should treat everybody badly,’” Duxbury said.

The current CPP/QPP benefits both union and non-union workers, including the majority who have no workplace pension plans—but not very much. Rather than letting the likes of the CFIB and so-called pension “experts” (who have the gall to accuse us of using “inflammatory” language) pit Canadian workers against each other, we need to pull together to improve retirement security for everyone. Our rank and file have, in fact, been active on this file for some time: in 2010, a petition with 100,000 signatures, demanding pension reform, was presented by our members to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

A majority of Canadians supports expanding the CPP/QPP, and is willing to pay the increased premiums to make it so. It makes sense from all sides, in fact: an enhanced CPP/QPP helps to level the playing field for employers, and it makes good fiscal sense for the provinces and the federal government, who otherwise end up paying social assistance and GIS respectively to retirees unable to make a go of it.

Provincial politicians have been lobbied hard up to now by special interest groups like the CFIB, and have been dithering and delaying. No more of that: these reforms are long overdue, and it’s time, at long last, for federal and provincial governments to act.

Let’s keep up the pressure. Canada’s seniors deserve no less.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on May 22, 2013 8:31 AM.

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