Trudeau's gone and steelworkers still have no answers about security of their pensions

Local steelworkers say Justin Trudeau's Hamilton visit this week left them with key questions about how their pensions will be protected when a company goes bankrupt.

Hamilton NDP pension critic Scott Duvall is on a cross-country tour talking about the CCAA process

Gary Howe, president of United Steelworkers Local 1005, listens as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a roundtable in Hamilton this week. The union still has vital questions, Howe says, about how pensioners will be protected when companies go bankrupt. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Local steelworkers say Justin Trudeau's Hamilton visit this week left them with key questions about how their pensions will be protected when a company goes bankrupt.

They want to see a change because they're afraid of who's going to be next.- Scott Duvall, NDP pensions critic and Hamilton Mountain MP

Gary Howe, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1005, says the prime minister's visit showed the government will try to protect workers if the U.S. imposes tariffs on steel and aluminum.

But one of the most important questions — whether Trudeau will revamp the act that has seen thousands of Canadians lose their pensions — is still unanswered.

"It was good politically," Howe said of the visit. But during a roundtable with Trudeau, "we took advantage of that opportunity by asking him other questions."

The best answer they have, Howe said, is that the government is looking into it.

The Prime Minister was in Hamilton on Tuesday 0:40

Unions are concerned with the Companies Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), which Stelco and Sears used to enter bankruptcy protection.

We have to ensure that Canadians are confident in their pensions.- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Hamilton this week

Under that act, pensioners fall low on the list of creditors. They fall far below secured creditors who gobble up most of the available money, leaving little to nothing to pay pensions.

That's what happened in the case of Sears, said Scott Duvall, Hamilton Mountain MP and the NDP's pensions critic. The company recently paid out $3 billion to shareholders (which a superior court investigator is probing now), while pensioners claim $300 million is missing from their pension fund.

It was also an issue when U.S. Steel Canada entered CCAA, Howe said. Thousands of Hamilton's retired steelworkers lost post-employment benefits they'd paid into for years, while U.S. Steel was a top creditor. The union has since reached a deal with new owner Bedrock Industries.

Local NDP and Tory MPs want the Liberals to fix the CCAA process.

MP Scott Duvall pushed Minister Navdeep Bains on Tuesday in Question Period about the federal government's absence from negotiations on a sale of Stelco. 2:41

Duvall is on a cross-country tour right now getting public input about it.

Too many Canadians have lost their dream of a dignified retirement after working hard for 30, 40, sometimes 50 years.- David Sweet, Conservative MP for Flamborough-Glanbrook

In the fall, he introduced a private members bill to put pensioners at the top the payee list. That got first reading, and has languished since.

"I'm hoping it'll see the light of day," he said. "But that's up to the governing party."

The idea in Duvall's bill is included in the Liberal's budget, which means "it's up for discussion," Duvall said. But he's not clear what that means.

People he's talked to on the tour "are saddened and outraged this is allowed to happen," Duvall said. "They want to see a change because they're afraid of who's going to be next."

Shoppers enter and leave a Sears retail store in Toronto on Thursday, October 19, 2017. The Superior Court is appointing a litigation investigator to review $3 billion in payments made to Sears Canada shareholders. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Trudeau referenced the budget when a reporter asked him about pensions. 

"We know there is much to do," he said at ArcelorMittal Dofasco. "We have to ensure that Canadians are confident in their pensions, and we are going to continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure that happens."

David Sweet, Conservative MP for Flamborough-Glanbrook, also wants the Liberals to review the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the CCAA and the Investment Canada Act.

"Too many Canadians have lost their dream of a dignified retirement after working hard for 30, 40, sometimes 50 years," he said in November statement.

"After the collapse of Nortel, Stelco/U.S. Steel and now Sears, it is time for parliament to act and support workers and their families."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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