Excerpted details of CURC’s position paper on Pensions

Pensions have always been important to seniors. While there had been limited efforts over the centuries to alleviate the poverty that faced most people if they lived to be 60, it was the last half of the twentieth century that saw a dramatic improvement for seniors in Canada. At the beginning of the century, being old and being very poor were synonymous. By the end of the century thanks to what unions accomplished at the bargaining table and what our political allies did in the legislatures, this was no longer the case.

Today these gains are at risk. Many of today’s retirees face the problem of loss of or reduction in their pensions when their firms go bankrupt; others lost much of their personal or defined contribution plans in the stock market meltdown. Tomorrow’s retirees face even greater challenges. For many of them, the old advertising slogan Freedom 55 has now turned into the revised hope of Freedom 75.

While it is commendable that the rate of poverty among seniors has declined in large measure due to government programs, we believe that Canada should set its goal not as seniors living at or just above the poverty line but in a more adequate standard of living. Workplace pensions have been the means to achieve that. However only 38.5% of Canadian workers, the majority of them union members, have workplace pensions. On the other hand, a third of today’s working population have no retirement savings at all.

Today employers are threatening to either eliminate pensions for new hires or to turn the plans into defined contribution plans. As the events of the past year have shown, the reliance on RRSP type of arrangements is a risky one. Thomas Walkom looking at the situation wrote in the Toronto Star on August 1:

The drive to dismantle the welfare state has a new target. Governments have already gutted unemployment insurance and social assistance. Out-of-date labour laws make it tough to organize unions in the new, decentralized, service-based economy. Now, thanks in large part to the dynamics of the recession, pensions are under attack.

The Congress of Union Retirees of Canada commits to play a leading role not only in defending what we have gained for ourselves but as important to build on that base in a way that future generations will be able to retire in dignity. To that end, we will lobby governments at the national and provincial level:

1. To hold a national summit on pensions with the full participation of all stakeholders including pensioners.

2. To increase CPP and QPP from 25% to 50% of the average industrial wage

3. To oppose changes in CPP and QPP that would increase the penalty for early retirement.

4. To amend legislation so that pension funds can build up surpluses greater than 110% of expected needs and thereby be better able to deal with market fluctuations, inflation and increased life expectancy.

5. To set up pension guarantee fund(s) nationally and or provincially to cover up to at least $2,500 per month in event of bankruptcy or workplace closure.

6. To raise the GIS by 15% to increase the incomes of the poorest seniors by up to $110 per month.

7. To pass legislation to require participation of retirees in the governance of their pensions.

To read the complete text of the position paper, click here.

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