Pensions in both the public and private sectors face a funding crisis. It seems unlikely that the current pension regime can cope with the social and economic pressures that an aging population will place on it. In order to protect the retirement of millions of Canadians, employers, unions and governments must come up with creative solutions to the financial, legal and political problems that currently plague Canada’s pensions. In this session Lancaster’s panel of experts will review ways in which collective bargaining can be used to resolve some of these issues and will touch on proposals for broader pension reform. Topics will include:
- The Current Crisis: What’s behind the current pension crisis? Is it due largely to the aging population or other factors? Is it affecting the public and private sectors alike? How has government responded so far? Are defined-benefit plans on the way out or is the concern about their sustainability overblown? What are the implications of Arbitrator Burkett’s recent Air Canada award for the future of defined-benefit plans?
- Funding Shortfalls and Insolvency: What can employers and unions do in collective bargaining to mitigate funding shortfalls? What are some alternative areas that could be negotiated so that pension benefits do not have to be reduced or altered? What are employer and employee trustees on pension plan boards doing to ameliorate the economy’s effect on the plans? How have unions and employers been addressing insolvency concerns? What are unions doing to protect pension plan benefits, especially in situations where the employer has become insolvent or entered bankruptcy protection? Can workplace parties negotiate terms that address hypothetical future situations in which the employer finds itself in financial difficulty and shuts down operations, or lays off employees? Should the collective agreement address whether post-closing recall periods should count towards pension eligibility? Are employers under bankruptcy protection exempt from paying terminated employees statutorily-mandated termination pay?
- Human Rights Concerns: How can workplace parties ensure that the solutions they bargain don’t burden younger workers unjustly? Will certain changes to protect the pensions of older workers violate human rights legislation by systematically disadvantaging younger workers? Are age-based reductions in pension benefits discriminatory? Is it discriminatory if a pension plan does not allow employees to accrue pensionable service after a certain age?
- Proposals on the Horizon: What pension reform possibilities have been proposed, either by governments or other actors? Which have been instituted? Do any look like they may solve – or at least alleviate – the current crisis? What are the pros and cons of pooled pension plans, enhancement of the CPP, and hybrid/target plans? What provisions should be included in government reforms in order to address the broader economic issues (e.g. priority of pension plans under bankruptcy legislation, pension insurance schemes, letters of credit to secure solvency payments, joint union-management funds, etc.)? How can the portability of pension plans be enhanced?