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CUPE and other unions representing health care workers in Saskatchewan are demanding the provincial government give more money to district health boards for pension plan improvements.

Health care employers in the province have among the poorest pension plan contribution rates in the country, averaging only 4.6 per cent of salary. Most employers contribute 5 to 9 per cent of earnings.

The six unions, which represent about 25,000 health care workers in a provincial pension plan, have produced a series of newspaper ads to increase pressure on the government

“Poverty has many faces. This one belongs to a health care worker,” states the first ad featuring Mary Leach, a former CUPE activist who worked for 19 years in a long term care facility in Regina.

Mary, who lives in a trailer home outside Regina, receives about $300 a month from her health care pension plan.

The poor benefits are due to the low contribution rates and the fact that some long term care facilities only offered pension plans in the mid to late eighties.

“The net effect is many health care workers predominantly women are living in poverty when they retire,” says CUPE rep Andrew Huculak.

The unions have developed a proposal to increase employer and employee contributions over a five-year period beginning in 2003, but the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (the bargaining agent for the health districts) and the government say “more dialogue” is needed.

The funding dispute 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. CUPE, which represents 12,000 health care workers in Saskatchewan, says pension plan improvements will be a priority at the bargaining table if the matter isn’t resolved by December.
In addition to the newspaper ads, health care workers are gathering signatures on a petition they intend to hand deliver to the provincial legislature.
The CUPE collective agreement covering licensed practical nurses, home health aides, caretakers, dietary aids and other support staff expires March 31, 2001.
Beth Smillie