Unions frustrated by new P.E.I. public pensions

The P.E.I. government has not given negotiations on public service pensions a chance, says the Union of Public Sector Employees.

The P.E.I. government has not given negotiations on public service pensions a chance, says the Union of Public Sector Employees.

The government did not consider pension proposals submitted by the unions, says UPSE president Debbie Bovyer. (CBC)

On Tuesday Premier Robert Ghiz and Finance Minister Wes Sheridan laid out a new plan to make the provincial public sector pension plan sustainable. It includes removing the guarantee of an indexed pension, and increasing the length of time employees have to work to get a full pension.

Five unions are affected by the changes. They have been in negotiations with the government for 16 months. UPSE president Debbie Bovyer says she is disappointed that after all that time government delivered a plan on its own.

"There was no consideration to the alternative plan that CUPE and UPSE submitted," said Bovyer.

"I don't know what's left to negotiate. I don't believe we've been in negotiation for quite some time now."

Bovyer said with negotiations apparently over, there may be nothing left but for UPSE members to remember pension reform at the polls.

Mona O'Shea, president of the P.E.I. Nurses' Union, also expressed frustration that government has delivered its own plan.

P.E.I. Nurses' Union president Mona O'Shea hopes there is still opportunity to make some changes. (CBC)

"We are very disappointed that they unilaterally came out to make these changes," said O'Shea.

O'Shea acknowledged some changes are absolutely needed, but said the government plan is too drastic.

The plan was delivered to the unions in early September, and O'Shea said the government has acknowledged some of the proposals from the Nurses' Union since then. She hopes to be able to continue that discussion, and prompt more changes before legislation is introduced in the coming fall session.

CUPE representative Bill MacKinnon agreed the changes proposed by the government go too far.

"Yes changes are needed," said MacKinnon, "radical changes are not."

Among the changes is a plan to adjust how salary is calculated for pension benefits, from the best three to five years to a career average. This change comes into effect in 2014. In 2019, employees will have to work to age 62 or have 32 years services for a full pension.

These delayed changes have some civil servants wondering if they should be changing their retirement plans to get out of work earlier.  Teachers Federation president Gilles Arsenault is recommending members avoid any rash decisions.

"There is no disadvantage or any advantage at this stage in the game, for any teacher to retire earlier than they had anticipated in what we've seen in the changes," said Arsenault.

CFIB approves of changes

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is giving the pension reforms a thumbs up.

Erin McGrath-Gaudet, director of provincial affairs for the CFIB on P.E.I., said demographics are not working in P.E.I.'s favour, with a lot more retirees, fewer people entering the workforce, and an out-migration of youth.

"It does seem to address our key concern which is the sustainability of those pension plans," said McGrath-Gaudet.

"The funds that we have now were set up for an environment where people weren't living as long and weren't retiring as early. So there has been a big draw and a big pressure on those funds. And we've seen in the last number of years significant top ups from taxpayers. So this is not inconsequential."

McGrath-Gaudet said she is meeting with Sheridan Thursday and hopes to also meet soon with the representatives of UPSE.


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