Make Nortel pay our pensions, workers urge Ottawa

More than 17,000 former Nortel workers have signed a petition demanding that the federal government force the company to pay them severance and pensions as it raises money by selling off assets under bankruptcy protection.

U.S., U.K. laws guarantee workers at bankrupt companies their pensions

More than 17,000 former Nortel workers have signed a petition demanding that the federal government force the company to pay them severance and pensions as it raises money by selling off assets under bankruptcy protection.

While the U.S. and U.K. governments are fighting for their pensioners' cash, former Nortel employees in Canada say the government here has shown little interest in going to bat for them.

Retiree Tony Marsh said Monday that Nortel's collapse has left him in a place where he never expected to be.

"A lot of us are going to end up on welfare or unemployment insurance, and be a burden on the taxpayer, and that's the last place we ever wanted to be or expected to be," Marsh said.

Nortel doesn't have sufficient assets to cover all its debts. So someone will not get paid. The question is who? 

Unlike Canada, both Britain and the U.S. guarantee company pensions by law, so pensioners in those countries can count on collecting what is owed to them.

To recover the money, the U.K. and U.S. governments have moved aggressively to grab Nortel assets around the world.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government is watching from the sidelines, the former Nortel workers say.

Diane Urquhart is a financial adviser to the former Nortel workers. She said part of the problem is that the Harper government isn't sticking up for its citizens.

Another problem, she said, is that this country's bankruptcy laws make pensioners stand in line with other creditors, such as institutional bondholders, even though many of those bondholders were insured against their losses.

"So we have a situation when a company like Nortel goes into bankruptcy where in fact the only people who appear to be losing are the severed workers and pensioners," Urquhart said.

If the law isn't changed to make companies pay their employees first, other companies will use the bankruptcy system to get out of paying the pensions and severance they once promised their workers, Urquhart said