REGINA: Six unions representing more than 25,000 health workers are fed-up with the Saskatchewan governments inaction on reforms to the SAHO pension plan, warning the pension issue could trigger job action across the health sector if changes arent forthcoming.
The unions, who have been meeting at a pensions side-table with SAHO and the government for five years, are incensed by SAHOs most recent pension proposal tabled in late May.
SAHOs document severely restricts the authority of the joint committee of pension trustees. It also states if the plan experiences a deficit, benefits would be reduced. If the deficits continue, SAHO is recommending the entire plan would be terminated.
We are appalled that after waiting eight months for a response to the unions proposal to improve the plan, SAHO has tabled a document proposing further pension restrictions and reductions, says Steve Foley, President of the CUPE Saskatchewan Health Care Council. And the fact they would threaten to cut and run if the plan incurs a sustained deficit, raises serious concerns about their commitment to health care workers.
The unions the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, the Service Employees International Union, the Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union, and the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union want SAHO to increase employer and employee contributions over a five-year period.
Health care employers in the SAHO pension plan have the lowest contribution rates in the country averaging 4.6% of salary, while average employee contributions to the plan are 4.1% of salary. Most pension plans require contributions of at least 5% of salary.
However, SAHOs document proposes to restrict contribution increases to no more than once every three years, through arbitration. It also wants them capped at .5%.
The health care unions are stunned by SAHOs proposal, stating its the most regressive position the Association has taken since pension talks began in 1996.
Theyre also angry with the government, for failing to provide more money to health districts for pension plan improvements.
Greg Trew of the Service Employees International Union says the governments inaction is reprehensible.
While our members are retiring into poverty because of joint contribution rates that are the lowest in Canada at only 8.7%, government members are retiring into luxury on joint contribution rates of 18%.
Trew says pension reform is a pressing concern for the 9,000 SEIU health care workers, who are currently bargaining with SAHO for a new agreement.
If this government thinks it can continue to do-nothing on the pension front, it can expect to see many more strike votes in the months ahead, he warns.
More than 12,000 CUPE health care members voted in support of taking job action on May 25 to back their demands for pension reform and other improvements.
CUPE health care workers are the first group to support strike action over pension plan reforms, says Rosalee Longmoore, President of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses. But judging by the governments response to our pension concerns, they wont be the only group prepared to walk the line.
The SUN collective agreement expires March 31, 2002.
The average pension benefit under the SAHO plan is only $675 per month. The poor benefits are due to the low contribution rates and the fact that some health facilities only offered pension plans in the mid to late eighties.
The funding dispute also has delayed implementation of joint trusteeship of the pension plan. Under an agreement reached in June 1998, the plan was to become jointly owned and administered by SAHO and the health unions on January 1, 2000.
The unions insist improved government funding and joint trusteeship of the SAHO pension plan are necessary to ensure adequate retirement benefits for health workers.
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For information in Regina contact:
Marg Romanow at SUN, 525-1666
For information in Saskatoon contact:
Greg Trew at SEIU, 652-1011 ext 229
or Tim Slatterly at HSAS, 955-3399
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