During the public pension consultations held on March 20th 2009, Sym Gill, Director of Pension and Benefits for the National Automobile, Aerospace, Transportation and General Workers Union of Canada (CAW-Canada) was called to address the panel as an expert witness. Although the scope of the consultation was limited to the legislative and regulatory framework of plans registered under the Pension Benefits Standards Act of 1985 the CAW took the opportunity to highlight the fact that workers without unions or workplace pensions are forced to rely on a woefully inadequate private retirement savings system.
“…we are disappointed that these consultations have such a narrow focus. This is a critical time in Canada’s history and we have an opportunity to consider some fundamental changes to our retirement income system. While the funding issues which are addressed by these consultations are extremely important, they are only part of the pension problem,” said Gill.
He pointed out that only a minority of Canadians are covered by employer pension plans, while coverage is very high among unionized workers, it is under 30 percent among non-union workers.
“But even for those who are covered by employer based pensions, the last few years has brought home the stark reality that simply being a member of a pension plan is not necessarily a guarantee of actually getting the pension that’s promised,” he added.
If companies are reluctant to take on new workplace pension plans, than that leaves most Canadians with retirement income that comes from a combination of Canada/Quebec Pension and/or Old Age Security. Mr. Gill made the case for an expansion of the CPP/QPP that would allow employers to participate in such a scheme.
“The CPP/QPP provides significant advantages for both employers and employees: low administration fees, stable and predictable contribution levels, portability, childrearing provisions, and 100 percent inflation protection. Most important, the CPP/QPP provides virtually complete coverage for Canadian workers,” said Gill.
CARP has been advocating for a Universal Pension Plan based on the CPP architecture. It’s no surprise that calls have been mounting lately for the creation of such a pension fund: during a time where declines in public equity markets have been as high as 23% the CPP recently outperformed most other broad-based pension plans when it declined by only 6.7% last quarter.
“The CPP model certainly recommends itself,” said Susan Eng, CARP VP of Advocacy.
The coalition for a Universal Pension Plan is growing to include a vast variety of stakeholders.
“You always wonder if people with gold plated defined benefit plans will find common cause with those who don’t, and in fact, I find that people who have those plans have been quite generous and that most of our support has come from them… They want other people to have what they themselves have. While under siege, they are advocating for other people and I think that we should congratulate them for that.” She added.