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CUPE has played a major role in the battle for same-sex spousal pension benefits. In fact, same-sex spousal benefit entitlements stem from the CUPE charter challenge, the very first charter challenge on the matter. The CUPE case successfully challenged the Income Tax Act definition of spouse for the purpose of paying pension benefits under workplace pension plans. April 23, 2008, the victory is 10 years old.

Entitlement to a pension survivor (spousal) benefit is a significant advantage to partners. Pension plans are often the largest family asset so ensuring that one’s spouse is entitled to collect her/his share of the asset is critical.

Where are we today?

Workplace pension plans

It is reasonable to assume that most CUPE member pension plans have been amended to include access for all spouses to the “survivor” pension on the death of the plan member.

But, rules for when a partner is eligible to be named a spouse for the pension survivor benefit vary from province to province and federally. It can even vary from plan to plan within a province. Generally speaking, this is the case if the spouse is common law. Members need to know what the rule is for their pension plan.

Being entitled to a benefit is not enough. It’s a hollow victory if members don’t know they are entitled the benefit. We need to promote the access that same-sex spouses have under our workplace pensions. We need to send a clear message that CUPE members are prepared to defend our rights.

Public pension plans

Canada’s public pension system includes the Canada/Québec Pension Plan (C/QPP) and Old Age Security. Both pay spousal benefits to same-sex partners. However, the government limited the benefit to partners whose spouse died on or after January 1, 1998, rather than allowing benefit payment back to 1985, when the Charter became effective. All survivors and estates are entitled to benefits retroactively up to 12 months prior to the date of the application for the benefit.

Next steps

The first step was to make same-sex partners eligible for pension survivor benefits. CUPE is proud of our leadership role in achieving this goal – 10 years ago!! There is more to do. The 2007 National Convention strategic directions passed by CUPE membership calls for every CUPE member to have a pension plan by 2013. This focus on pensions provides an opportunity to pay special attention to the provisions in our workplace pension plans and to work on ensuring our lesbian, gay and bisexual membership know about and use the hard won right to same-sex spousal benefits.

Taking action – a checklist

Celebrate the 10th Anniversary of our victory by taking action.

CUPE members, locals and pension activists can use this checklist.

My workplace pension plan has:

  • Been amended to give same sex partners pension spousal benefits (if you don’t know ask your CUPE pension trustee, employer or use the disclosure of information provisions of your pension standards law);
  • Promoted the right for members to sign-up their same-sex partners for the spousal benefit by:
    • Sending a form to each plan member (this allows privacy). You will know because you should have received one.
    • Including the information in the pension booklet, on the plan website, in plan newsletter.

My Local has:

  • Posted announcements on bulletin boards.
  • Included information on the web site, newsletters and announcements.
  • Informed members to name their common law/married same-sex partner as a beneficiary to C/QPP and OAS.
  • Bargained language in the collective agreement.
  • Challenged the pension board/ committee if they have not encouraged and disclosed same sex spousal benefits.

To find out more contact: www.cupe.ca/equality