Published by OCUFA in Ontario University Report, 4:3 (14 September 2010)
In its March Budget of this year, the Ontario government said it would offer funding relief to the university sector that would be above and beyond what it had proposed for all Ontario pension plans in its 2009 Budget, provided that certain conditions were met.
Last Tuesday, OCUFA representatives attended a briefing about the processes and conditions involved in the government’s relief plan. Seven university-sector employee groups attended.
The groups were told that the government’s plan would entail a university employer submitting a plan to the Ministry of Finance outlining the steps an institution would take to make its pension plan sustainable. The employer would then have three years to bring about these changes, using the normal process of pension change on that campus, via either collective bargaining or the university pension committee.
There are two significant problems with this plan.
First, the government’s 2009 funding-relief guidelines required employee consent to a plan before an employer became eligible for relief. But under this new proposal, while a university funding plan must be shared with pension plan members and bargaining agents, no consent is required.
So, under the government plan, university employees would lose all voice in determining how their pension benefits – that is to say, their deferred wages – would be protected.
Second, the government is setting unacceptable conditions for giving universities a further 10 years to eliminate the shortfall (for a total of 13 years). Employers must demonstrate “progress” in cutting pension benefits and shifting more of the financial burden onto employees. Alternatively, they can cancel the pension plan and replace it with an RRSP-style pension, where the pension benefit is not guaranteed.
OCUFA, along with all the other groups present in the briefing, rejected the government’s plan categorically, and vocally, for several reasons:
- just when university employees are being asked to consider joint sponsorship of their pension plans, the government is proposing they have no say for three years on whether their employers are exempted from making solvency payments for their pension;
- none of these conditions address pension sustainability but encourage, instead, employers to cut costs and shift costs to employees;
- the government would be launching yet another incursion into local bargaining (on top of its current wage restraint consultations); and
- the government would be, therefore, again helping the employers with a concessionary agenda.
The groups present warned the government that if it should proceed with this plan, it would prove to be a recipe for labour unrest on campuses across Ontario.
The government is moving quickly and planning on introducing pension changes this fall. OCUFA will be scheduling a meeting of its member faculty associations to discuss the pension issue.