Ontario paramedics and their unions have won a major victory in their fight for fair access to early retirement after a decades-long campaign for pension fairness.

The Ontario Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (OMERS), which is the defined benefit pension plan for paramedics, has finally amended the rules to provide paramedics the option of retiring at age 60 without having the pensions they’ve earned unfairly reduced. 

“Our members have been fighting for this fix for years,” said CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn. “Paramedics will now be able to bargain access to what their colleagues in fire and police services already have: the ability to retire with a normal retirement age of 60.”

Just like firefighters and police officers, paramedics work in a designated Public Safety Occupation, which is recognized under federal law. This designation makes them eligible under federal tax rules for earlier retirement options, if their pension plan allows it. But until the recent change, OMERS’ rules would have imposed unfair cuts to the pensions of some paramedics who wanted or needed to retire early.

“A paramedic’s job takes a heavy toll on their physical and psychological health. For these workers, retiring early is often a matter of safety as well as fairness,” said JP Hornick, president of OPSEU/SEFPO. “This amendment shouldn’t have taken years, but now that it’s here, paramedics and their unions can move forward and build on this positive change.”

Before paramedics are able to access the OMERS provisions on earlier retirement, they will need to negotiate this change through local bargaining with their employers. CUPE and OPSEU/SEFPO will provide guidance to paramedic locals interested in making this change.

Paramedics and their unions fought this unfairness for many years, raised their concerns with OMERS and attempted to work with the pension plan to find a solution. In 2021, CUPE and OPSEU/SEFPO launched what became a series of legal challenges, arguing against OMERS’ unfair treatment of paramedics seeking to take their pensions early.

With the next legal hearing date only days away, OMERS contacted CUPE and OPSEU/SEFPO to inform the unions that it would amend the formula that had penalized some paramedics transitioning to an earlier retirement.

Both Hornick and Hahn believe that the amendment on early retirement is another signal of positive change at OMERS.

“Our unions’ experience with the OMERS Sponsors Corporation has been evolving in a positive direction under its new leadership,” said Hahn. “We hope this latest change is evidence that better relations between plan members, sponsors, and OMERS are becoming a reality. We do, however, remain deeply concerned about the ongoing OMERS Plan Risk Assessment and will continue our broader campaign against any cuts by OMERS to our members’ pensions.”

CUPE and OPSEU/SEFPO together represent more than 7,000 paramedics across the province.