© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Toronto lawyer and pension expert, Sue Philpott, speaks to the annual meeting of the Union of Public Service Employees in Charlottetown Saturday.
The Union of Public Sector Employees has no intention of giving into pension reforms being introduced by the province.
Prince Edward Island union members solidified that position in formal resolution during its 52nd annual convention at the Delta Prince Edward this weekend.
A resolution stated the group would continue fighting the changes, which have yet to be legislated, in hopes that the province will renegotiate.
“It was passed unanimously and we’ll keep that fight going,” said union president Debbie Bovyer during an interview with The Guardian.
The second day of the convention came after more than 450 individuals marched up Queen Street Friday to protest the reforms. That rally was organized by UPSE.
Saturday saw both retirees and those who have just started a career in the public sector get up and speak about how important they feel the issue is.
Guest speaker Susan Philpott, of Koskie Minsky LLP in Toronto, Ont., said it is not the workers now close to retirement that will suffer most from the cuts.
“It’s the younger generation, the new members whose pensions will be cut 20, 30, 40, 50 percent from what the current actives get,” said Philpott, a lawyer with background representing unions and employees in both the public and private sectors. “That’s the message that’s not getting out there and that’s what I’m concerned about.”
Philpott had been part of UPSE’s working discussions with the province regarding changes to the pension plan.
She has also previously helped the P.E.I. union achieve reform on the Public Sector Employees Group Insurance Plan.
While Philpott said the union recognizes changes needed to be made to the plan, she said the province has begun a process that will “fundamentally gut” pensions.
Philpott said she’s also concerned over the government message on the issue. The province has said changes need to be made to protect taxpayers from a looming $450 liability and to ensure the future existence of the plan.
“It’s confusing and it hides the truth about what is really happening here. They are sugar coating what they’re doing. They’re trying to convince the members of this plan and the public that they’re just tweaking pension benefits and that they’re not trying to hurt people,” she said. “But at the end of the day, they’re significant cuts.”
When asked Friday, finance minister Wes Sheridan said the changes will be going ahead.
“This plan is solid now,” Sheridan said. “This has become a political battle and I’m sorry that this has occurred… I understand where there concerns are, this is the livelihoods of people and that’s why I’m here to ensure these pensions are going to be here for the next 90 years.”