News Briefs

2008: Worst year ever for pensions; Record OHS penalties in Alberta; Recession could end sooner, not later; layoffs, hiring freezes; Possible credit checks, fingerprinting

2008: Worst year ever for pensions

Toronto — Canadian pension plans suffered the worst year ever in 2008, as the value of assets plunged 15.9 per cent, according to RBC Dexia. The last two quarters of 2008 were particularly brutal, but the decline actually started in mid-2007. The previous low mark for pension performance came in 1974, when pension portfolios shrank 12.7 per cent. The firm said reliable pension data is only available back to the early 1960s. It’s tough to compare current figures to the Great Depression because back then pensions were uncommon and equity exposure would have been limited, said the firm.

Record OHS penalties in Alberta

Edmonton — Alberta courts imposed a record $5 million in occupational health and safety fines against 22 companies in 2008. The penalties surpassed the $1.72 million levied against 12 companies in 2007. In 2007, 74 per cent of penalties were paid to safety organizations to provide training or to organizations that assist injured workers. In 2008, that proportion rose to 88 per cent, or nearly $4.5 million.

Recession could end sooner, not later

Ottawa — Canada’s economy could start to turn around as early as 2010, according to the Bank of Canada. The country’s economic output will contract 4.8 per cent this quarter but rally to expand 3.8 per cent in 2010, predicted Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney. This forecast is based mostly on a belief the hundreds of billions of dollars global governments are pumping into their countries will jump-start sputtering economies. While 2009 will probably be marked with bankruptcies and job losses, the recession that began in 2008 won’t last as long as the recessions of the early 1980s and early 1990s, said Carney.

Layoffs, hiring freezes

Toronto — Nearly one-third of employers are planning layoffs in the face of the recession, according to a survey by HR consulting firm Hewitt Associates. The survey of 192 companies found 31 per cent are expecting layoffs, while 53 per cent are scaling back recruitment efforts and 47 per cent have put a stop to new hiring. Employee benefits are mostly safe, with 80 per cent of employers planning to leave medical, dental and disability benefits untouched, while some are even planning to expand benefits offerings.

Possible credit checks, fingerprinting

Ottawa — A federal government task force is considering imposing mandatory credit checks and fingerprinting for most federal employees. The Task Force on Security Screening of Individuals is considering the measures to replace basic criminal record checks and improve the screening process for most of the nearly 250,000 employees in the core federal public service. The new measures are suggested for those who need a minimum level of security clearance to gain access to federal facilities or protected government information. The proposal is hypothetical at this stage and the task force has yet to issue a final report, said a Treasury Board spokesperson.

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