An interview with Claude Généreux, national secretary-treasurer of CUPE
by Pierre Ducasse
Pierre Ducasse: Improving public pension plans is one of CUPE’s priorities. What are our key demands?
Claude Généreux: We want to put the focus on public plans. All workers should have better coverage. Currently, the majority of workers in Canada do not have a workplace pension plan. What’s even worse, one-third of all workers in Canada have absolutely no savings to cover their basic expenses.And since the financial crisis of 2008, defined contribution plans and RSPs have been a real roller coaster.
The Harper government has offered individual solutions for what is a collective problem. They tell us that we just need to save more and buy RSPs : but people do not have the money to save these ways. For example, only 5% of people make their maximum RSP contribution.
We need to improve our public plans, which will help all workers, unionized or not. Public plans are much more stable and predictable than other types of retirement plans.
We are advocating a doubling of Canada Pension Plan benefits, phased-in over a period of seven years. This could be achieved by increasing worker and employer contributions from 4.95% to 7.8%. That would raise our benefits to a level comparable with those of other developed countries. Our public system is one of the “stingiest” in the world.
PD: Some people might wonder why we are investing in this campaign when our members, for the most part, have private workplace plans negotiated by the union. How would you answer them?
CG: I have two things to say about that, and our position is not merely altruistic.
Firstly, about 25% of our own members (150,000 people) have no workplace pension plan.
Secondly, as a union we believe that we have a responsibility to all workers. The financial crisis has demonstrated that strengthening public plans is the best approach because they are universal and stable. Public pension plans benefit everyone, including us.
PD: Has there been any progress since CUPE and the CLC started this campaign?
CG: We have certainly helped to bring this issue into the public arena. We have also worked to raise awareness among political leaders. For example, we know that it was discussed among all the provincial premiers at the last meeting of the Council of the Federation.
PD: What do you say to the young people who believe that the public and private coffers will be empty by the time they retire?
CG: It is important to emphasize that our current government plans are viable. The chief actuary of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), along with others, has confirmed that the CPP is fully funded to meet its commitments for the next 70 years.
That being said, CPP benefits are insufficient, which justifies our position that they need to be doubled. Some people might object to a “tax increase”. That said, we could significantly improve and safeguard the system with an even lower increase than what we experienced in the ‘90s.
This solution will help all workers, including the young.
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