CAW to fight for pensions, more time off and job security

Potential improvements hampered by lack of government will
By Gordon Sova
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 08/13/2008

At their triennial collective bargaining and political action convention, the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) has been mapping the route it will follow in up-coming negotiations. Pension, working life and job security recommendations have played an important part in that strategy.

Much of the discussion around pensions concerned political pressure on governments to strengthen public pensions and safeguard the funds in private pensions. In addition, the union listed as priorities the establishment of more multi-employer plans, a requirement that every employer must set aside pension contributions of some sort for employees (as has been done in Norway, Switzerland and Australia) and the creation of a public or private vehicle to allow small employers to be members of a broader pension plan (the Canada-Wide Industrial Pension Plan and the Saskatchewan Pension Plan were suggested as examples).

At the bargaining table, the CAW will continue to protect and expand the number of defined-benefit plans, create options for early retirement, look for ways to introduce phased retirement, press for greater indexation of benefits and negotiate specific funding commitments (rather than legislated levels of reserves, which are vulnerable to contribution holidays when returns are good).

Finally, a specific commitment was made to work with public-sector unions for a retirement age of 60 for paramedics.

In regard to lowering the number of hours worked per week, the CAW admits that this is a “difficult period for workers to make progress on working time.” Recent legislative victories (reduction in the workweek in Quebec, an extra week of vacation in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, new statutory holidays) have been balanced by some reversals (the removal of a limit on annual overtime in Ontario, the failure of the “most available hours” legislation in Saskatchewan and the shelving of recommendation of the Arthurs Commission in Ottawa). However, the union maintains several goals: placing limits on overtime, giving employees more say in scheduling their vacations, maximizing hours by creating full-time from part-time jobs, and expansion of personal days, vacation and early retirement.

Job insecurity is characterized in the report as “the trademark of employment in this era.” Not only have jobs been lost but the new jobs that have replaced them are more likely to be part-time or contingent than in the past. The fault is laid at the door of the federal government for both the lack of a response to manufacturing job losses and the policy of opening Canadian markets to economies that are themselves closed to our exports.

In the face of the loss of members’ jobs, the CAW also aims to negotiate more employer-funded adjustment programs, more and richer SUB plans, separation allowances, closure agreements and early retirements.

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