Union takes aim at MLA pension plan

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on October 28, 2013

Debbie Bovyer, president of the Union of Public Sector Employees (UPSE)

Prince Edward Island’s biggest public sector union is taking aim at MLA pensions in its fight against controversial reforms to the province’s civil service pension plans.

In a full-page ad in Saturday’s print edition of The Guardian, the Union of Public Sector Employees (UPSE) compared MLA pension benefits to those paid to government workers after they retire.

“What we wanted to demonstrate was, we are not the ones with gold-plated pensions,” said UPSE president Debbie Bovyer.

The ad displayed the pension benefits earned by elected members of the legislative assembly, which they become eligible for after just five years in office.

It compared these to the benefits paid to public sector workers, which are available unreduced after 30 years of service.

Their graph shows a public sector worker who earns $50,000 a year would receive the same pension after 30 years of work as a cabinet minister who serves only 6 years.

The union also pointed to the province’s supplementary pension plans for MLAs and senior employees in government, which have not been mentioned as part of the province’s pension reforms.

“Right now those are being untouched and we don’t think that’s fair,” Bovyer said.

“I feel (the MLA) pension plan should be the same as our pension plan, the same as every other civil service employee.”

A little over a week ago, the province announced an overhaul of the two public sector pensions in an effort to avoid hundreds of millions in pension shortfalls.

The changes include the elimination of guaranteed cost of living increases and a change in the calculation of pension earnings from the best three or best five years to a career average, adjusted to inflation.

When they were first unveiled, Premier Robert Ghiz said he sent a letter to the Indemnities and Allowances Commission requesting the same adjustments be made to the MLA pension plan.

The union has asked for a copy of this letter, but Bovyer says the commission chair has refused to release it.

Bovyer wants to know whether the second, supplementary pension plan offered to MLAs and those under the senior compensation program will also be subject to the province’s reforms.

These supplementary plans offer approximately equal benefits to the MLA and senior compensation pension plans, but they are unfunded – meaning government covers all premiums and MLAs and senior employees do not have to pay into it. 

The province is also responsible for any unfunded liability and makes payments from its operating fund as they become due, according to the most recent audited public accounts report.

“It’s 100 per cent funded by the taxpayers of P.E.I. and it’s got 100 per cent liability,” Bovyer said.

Now that public sector pensions are being publicly debated, Bovyer says the union wants ensure Islanders have all the facts.

“The employer (government) seems to want to have public opinion about our pension plan and I think it’s only a fair process that their pension plan gets some public scrutiny as well,” Bovyer said.

Both UPSE and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are pushing back against the province’s pension changes, asking for government to instead adopt their counter proposal for pension reform.

They are planning to march on Province House Nov. 15 to voice their concerns.

A request made to Finance Minister Wes Sheridan’s office for comment on this story from the minister was declined.

“The premier sent a letter to the Indemnities and Allowances Commission requesting they look at the MLA plan, so it would not be appropriate to comment on the issue while it is before them,” a spokeswoman for Sheridan’s office wrote in an email to The Guardian.