An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code (mandatory retirement age)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Raymonde Folco  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Introduced, as of Nov. 6, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code to prohibit federally regulated employers — that is, private-sector employers subject to federal acts and regulations, as well as the federal public administration — from setting a mandatory retirement age.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

March 21st, 2011 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 11th and 12th reports of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in relation to Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, and Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code (mandatory retirement age). The committee has studied both bills and has decided to report each bill back to the House with an amendment.

I wish to thank all of the committee members for their work and collaboration in the course of this process.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

December 6th, 2010 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Halton
Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to debate Bill C-481, which was introduced by the hon. member for Laval—Les Îles.

The proposed legislation seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit federally-regulated employers from setting a mandatory retirement age.

I believe there is a lot of merit in pursuing what is proposed in Bill C-481. Specifically, I would support the elimination of exceptions set out in the Canadian Human Rights Act that allow the setting of mandatory retirement ages. I would also be prepared to support the bill's proposal to amend the Canada Labour Code to remove the provision that denies employees' severance pay upon involuntary termination if they are entitled to a pension.

While I can support the intention of Bill C-481, there are a few flaws in the proposed legislation. I will outline the two amendments to Bill C-481 that would be required for me to fully support the bill.

First, the bill would need to maintain paragraph 15(1)(b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act. This section provides for minimum and maximum ages of employment to be set out in regulations that were made by the Governor in Council.

Second, a coming into force provision would be required to allow the employers the necessary timeframe to implement these changes.

I will fully explain the aspect of the bill that I would support.

Bill C-481 would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to remove two blanket exceptions, as well as the regulation making power that provides defences for mandatory retirement. Those blanket exceptions apply either in cases where a union expels a member who has reached the normal retirement age or where an employee is forced to retire upon reaching the normal age of retirement for individuals in similar positions. Eliminating blanket exceptions for mandatory retirement, while allowing employers to continue to establish bona fide occupational requirements, is consistent with current legislative trends and employment practices.

All provinces and territories have already amended their human rights legislations to remove blanket exceptions for mandatory retirement. This bill would bring federal legislation in line with current provincial legislation on the matter. However, the possibility of defending mandatory retirement policies still remains if there is sufficient evidence to show that they are required for health or safety reasons.

The average age of retirement in Canada today is 62 and only about 10% of the population continues to work after 65. Therefore, mandatory retirement policies in the federal jurisdiction affect very few employees in practice. In fact, less than 2% of federally-regulated employers have a mandatory retirement policy and only about 10% of large employers with 100 employees or more have a mandatory retirement policy.

Also, I would like to correct some comments recently reported in the press. Employees of the federal public service are not required to retire at age 65. In fact, mandatory retirement was generally eliminated from the federal public service in 1986, allowing employees to continue working as long as they wish.

In addition, evidence is suggesting that several large employers may actually abolish the practice of mandatory retirement in the near future.

There are areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction, such as the Canadian Forces and interprovincial and international transportation activities, where there may be circumstances that warrant a mandatory retirement policy. Repealing paragraph 15 (1)(b) would pose a significant challenge to the Canadian Forces' operational capability, not to mention the efficient management of military personnel and cost containment. The Canadian Forces must maintain an active and ready force. It must be able to recruit within its ranks. Therefore, it requires a continuous flow of personnel to ensure appropriate experience and expertise throughout its ranks.

Moreover, managing an older workforce would require increased financial and personnel resources, which would be funded from a fixed envelope at the direct expense of other priorities. Therefore, the Canadian Forces needs to maintain its current mandatory retirement policy.

I will now turn to my next point, which is amending the severance provision in the Canada Labour Code. Currently, under the code, employees whose employment is involuntarily terminated are entitled to severance pay. However, an existing provision, paragraph 235(2)(b), denies severance pay to those eligible for pension benefits, whether that t is the Canada pension plan, OAS, old age security, or private pension.

This creates differences in how otherwise similar employees are treated regarding a work-related benefit. For example, an employee with 20 years of service whose employment is terminated a month after becoming entitled to a pension loses entitlement, while someone two months younger with the same service is entitled to 40 days severance pay. I believe this to be unfair. Therefore, I support repealing this provision.

Bill C-481 needs a coming into force provision. This would allow employers and unions to make adjustments to prepare for the elimination of mandatory retirement and would give them time to reconfigure any policies or benefit plans that would be affected. It would help determine whether existing age-related practices need to be defended as bona fide occupational requirements and would further assist in negotiations of new collective agreements that comply with the legislation.

Provinces and territories did put in similar transition periods when the elimination of mandatory retirement came to their books. Additionally, eliminating blanket exceptions for mandatory retirement could raise a low charter risk to the extent that it might substantially interfere with any current collective agreements. Discussions between the government and affected parties about the transition provision may reduce this risk even further.

Abolishing the practice of mandatory retirement within the federal jurisdiction would not only be advantageous for workers but it would also be beneficial for our economy. Canada is facing the challenges of an aging population. It is projected that the proportion of Canadians aged 65 or older will increase from 13% to roughly 25%. In addition, the ratio of pensioners to workers is expected to shrink from four workers for every retiree to two workers for every retiree, and all of this will happen by 2030.

Within that period of time, these massive demographic changes will mean added fiscal pressures on Canadians' ability to manage increasing health care and pension plan costs. Canada will need to retain its skilled, seasoned workers and make greater use of their talents for longer periods of time.

There is abundant evidence that suggests that older workers are actually more likely to remain in the workforce when organizations have human resources practices that accommodate their needs and preferences. In other words, if they feel valued, they will continue contributing to the prosperity and well-being of Canada.

Bill C-481 would establish greater fairness for older workers and values their contributions.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

December 6th, 2010 / 11:10 a.m.
See context

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-481, a bill that would, among other things, eliminate the exception in the Canadian Human Rights Act that currently allows federal public sector and federally regulated private sector employers to have a mandatory retirement age for their employees.

Currently, only about 10%, or 840,000, of the Canadian workforce is subjected to mandatory retirement, and these individuals work within federally regulated sectors, such as transportation, telecommunications, the postal service and, of course, the armed forces, which we just heard about from the minister a moment ago.

Before going further, I want to make it clear that mandatory retirement provisions do not mean that people are not allowed to work beyond a certain age. Mandatory retirement provisions only apply to a specific workplace or pension plan.

When the government supports the lifting of mandatory retirement, it typically tells us that retirement is increasingly a lifestyle choice, as people are living longer and leading more active lives. Both the Governments of Ontario and Nova Scotia have in the past used similar language in support of the elimination of mandatory retirement rules.

However, we in the NDP know there is much more to the situation than this. It is a very simple argument that we are hearing so far. Saving for retirement has become increasingly difficult for Canadians. One-third of Canadian families have no retirement savings at all and two-thirds of Canadians do not have a company pension plan.

Equally troubling is the situation of those workers who are forced to retire at age 65 only to have to take another job immediately afterward at a fraction of the pay simply because they do not have a proper pension plan.

The NDP believes that older workers should have real retirement choices. For example, I think of the working conditions in the steel mills in my home town of Hamilton, the suffocating heat from the furnaces, the air thick with particulate matter and the long hours drenched in sweat. No one wishes to endure these circumstances any longer than they need to. When workers, such as those, choose to work past age 65, they do not do so because they want to. It is because they must. There is often a mortgage that remains to be paid, or college or university tuition for their children still waiting to be cleared.

For many, the freedom to work past age 65 is fast becoming an obligation to work as long as one is physically able. Eliminating the remaining mandatory retirement rules may be helpful to workers who lack a workplace pension but it will do nothing to guarantee that their income will be adequate. For New Democrats, income adequacy is the issue. We have called for an immediate increase to the GIS to lift seniors currently living in poverty out of it, and for a phased-in long-term doubling of the CPP.

The concern I have with respect to the issues of mandatory retirement is the suspicion that businesses push for it because doing so averts attention away from the inadequacies and inequities of Canada's retirement income system. Allowing people to work longer is for them a substitute for programs that would work to ensure that every Canadian has a solid and secure pension on which to retire. Working longer is, for the business class, what we might call an anti-poverty program for seniors, one that requires no contribution by way of taxes and one that leaves the onus on the individual. In other words, from their perspective, perfect indeed.

Meanwhile, these employees who support banning mandatory retirement do so largely because they are already financially secure and work in non-physically demanding jobs. Let us face it, people are living longer. It makes a certain amount of sense that individuals who hold non-physically demanding jobs and who work in safe and comfortable work environments might want to stay on the job longer than someone who, for instance, works pouring concrete all day.

Many of us here in this august chamber probably feel this way. As the member for Hamilton Mountain recently observed, this place does not exactly have a physical workload. It may be stressful to many but it is different from pouring concrete.

Let us be clear. Working longer is not nor will ever be a substitute for an adequate retirement income system.

We have had a number of debates in the House about the inadequacy of public pensions and the increasing incidence of solvency deficiencies of private pension plans. To date, the government has merely paid lip service to improving these pension systems. While they wait for the government to act, literally thousands of Canadians who have worked hard all their lives and who have played by the rules are finding it impossible to make ends meet on their meagre pension incomes.

Meanwhile, New Democrats have been calling for a suite of substantive reforms to improve the situation. As I mentioned before, we have called for an immediate increase to the guaranteed income supplement to lift all seniors out of poverty and for a phased in long term doubling of the CPP.

We would also like to see Canada's bankruptcy laws amended to ensure unfunded pension liabilities, that is, the moneys that companies promised but failed to contribute to workplace pension plans, are given the same status as unpaid wages and go to the front of the line of creditors for payment during bankruptcy or insolvency proceedings. Bill C-501 is being debated in the industry committee at this time and it is designed to do just this.

New Democrats are also calling for security for workplace pension plans through a mandatory pension insurance program paid for by the pension plan sponsors and guaranteeing pension payouts of up to $2,500 a month in the case of a plan failure, and also a national agency managed by the CPP investment board or a similar body to adopt pension plans of failed companies and continue to take advantage of market conditions and to maximize the payouts.

Members can think of our proposed pension insurance plan as being akin to the deposit insurance required of Canadian banks to guarantee the security of bank accounts for Canadians. The banks pay for that insurance. In this case, pension sponsors would be responsible for purchasing pension insurance to guarantee minimum pension payouts for their plan members.

In recent months, ex-employees of insolvent companies such as Fraser Papers or of course Nortel, while having to endure the indignity of taking a massive haircut to their pensions, have watched their American counterparts who work for the same companies located in the United States have their underfunded pension plans propped up by the United States pension benefits guarantee.

Now many of these pensioners will certainly have to work past 65, but they should not have had to do so simply because their government does not care enough to secure their pensions in a way that the great bastion of free market to the south of us has already done for its workers. A national pension insurance plan would ensure that Canadian pensioners are no longer left in the lurch like this while their American cousins are able to retire with a pension that they had been promised.

Getting back to the specific issue of Bill C-481, at this point let me say that I will be supporting sending the bill to committee. I very much look forward to hearing from Canadians when the bill is dealt with there.

I suspect that once in committee, we will hear from many sincere individuals who wish to continue their professional pursuits. Nevertheless, I still have serious reservations that eliminating mandatory retirement rules is in the interest of the people of my riding of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek. I believe there should be meaningful and comprehensive reforms to the retirement income system of Canada.

Forcing Canadians to work longer should not be just a way for the government to download some of its pension obligations. Working past 65 should be a real choice, one not driven by the fear of destitution but by the genuine desire to continue with a rewarding work life.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

December 6th, 2010 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code (mandatory retirement age), as introduced by my hon. colleague from Laval—Les Îles.

I will begin with some background on why this legislation is important. I will also discuss how the bill deals directly with the Canadian Human Rights Act, how it affects the federally regulated private sector, some safety concerns with the bill, and arguments against banning mandatory retirement. I will also address concerns of one of my constituents who could benefit from the bill.

The bill is designed to prohibit federally regulated employers from setting a mandatory retirement age. Let me begin by providing a bit of background. Currently there are no laws in Canada that require a person to retire at a specific age. As we know, federal civil servants are not obliged to retire when they reach age 65. However, there is an exemption for non-civil servants in the federally regulated sector such as AECL, Air Canada, CN, CMHC, Petro-Canada, et cetera, where mandatory retirement can be a condition of an employment contract, collective agreement or workplace policy.

The Canadian Human Rights Act, CHRA, is designed to protect Canadians from discrimination in many different areas, including age. The act applies to all federally regulated industries employing nearly one million Canadians. The act needs clarity.

Subsection 15(1)(b) protects the employer against allegations of discrimination based on age and years of service. Then subsection 15(1)(c) protects the individual based on age of retirement established for employees working in a similar position. The validity of this provision was challenged by a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision in Vilven and Kelly v. Air Canada. As hon. colleagues know, these two employees were reinstated with full pay and seniority.

Bill C-481 seeks to clarify the provisions in the act that do not allow an individual to file a complaint based on age. This undoubtedly would impact mandatory retirement in collective agreements and in workplace policy.

The bill also amends the Canada Labour Code to provide for payment of severance even if the terminated employee is entitled to a pension. There are no changes to the regulations for public servants as mandatory retirement was removed in 1986.

I realize the issue of safety is important and must be addressed for particular industries. I understand that mandatory testing would need to be conducted to ensure that the individual is still capable of doing the job. For pilots travelling on international routes, there are provisions in place for the countries they land in; however, in most cases it refers only to the captain. For example, there is no reason that the captain could not be the copilot for some of the flights using larger aircraft.

Some would argue that mandatory retirement creates opportunities and job promotions for younger workers. Some unions argue efforts to have benefits between the ages of 60 and 65 would be undermined.

In particular, I would like to address the concerns of a constituent of mine. This constituent contacted my office in August and we have been corresponding with her ever since. This legislation is something that could help her directly. Joan works for a federally regulated company. As she reached, and has passed, the age of 65, unfortunately, her job came under review. The company she works for agreed to extend her employment on a yearly basis subject to one rule, that she not receive sick pay. She has been told that her last day of work will be October 31, 2011. She is not ready to retire and she will be searching for temporary work after that date. She feels vulnerable, and quite frankly, who would not?

The current legislation discriminates against the needs of women who opt out of the workforce to raise their children or those who need to take care of aging parents and have not accumulated enough pension benefits to do so. These are the everyday problems Canadians want us to address with Bill C-481.

While there are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed by eliminating mandatory retirement, we must face some of the realities that affect our labour force, such as retirement savings, pensions, skills and labour shortages.

We all know that the baby boom generation is beginning to retire. This will lead to a lack of qualified labour. Often women and immigrants need to work longer because they may not have accumulated enough pension or savings to retire with dignity. People are living longer and healthier and want to continue to work.

The United States, New Zealand and Australia have eliminated mandatory retirement with no major consequences. It also allows some older workers with seniority to work part-time or to work flexible schedules. The provinces have eliminated mandatory retirement; however, there are provisions for mandatory retirement in jobs where physical ability is a requirement, such as in firefighting and policing. We should also take into account mental ability, particularly as it relates to airline pilots.

It is imperative that we do the right thing for the right reasons in this place. More importantly, it is our responsibility to keep our laws current, effective and adaptable with the times. What was acceptable and commonplace 20 years ago no longer is today.

I would like to reference a specific court case from 1990. I am sure most hon. members are familiar with it.

The case dealt with a professor at the University of Guelph. It was felt that even though the Ontario Human Rights Code violated section 15 of the charter, the code was saved as a result of section 1 of the charter because of the law at the time. In writing for the majority, Justice La Forest pointed out that mandatory retirement does involve a complex balancing of competing interests on which expert opinion is divided. In this regard, the courts should accord legislatures considerable room to manoeuvre in striking a balance. This balance is what the hon. member for Laval—Les Îles seeks to obtain with the passage of her bill.

Research shows and the available workforce evidence suggests that abolition of mandatory retirement is unlikely to have a major impact on the average retirement age or years of work in Canada. Further research shows that two-thirds of elderly workers choose to retire before the age of 65, and that 43% retire before age 60. The average age of retirement for all workers was 61 years in 1999. Of the Canadian population 65 to 69 years of age, 11.8% were active in the labour force in 2001. Immigrants and newcomers can spend more time in the workforce, and need to spend more time in the workforce, to build up their pensions. Employers are better able to plan for their workforce skills replacement. Elementary economic principles show that job displacement only takes place for a short period of time. The average is nine months to a year.

I support this bill. It is something on which we must move forward. Obviously, there are some concerns around safety and labour force impacts that need to be addressed, but I believe they can all be reviewed in committee. I thank the member for her hard work on this file. I will be voting in favour of this bill and I encourage all hon. members to do the same.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

December 6th, 2010 / 11:25 a.m.
See context

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles
Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the bill before us today, Bill C-481, introduced by the hon. member for Laval—Les Îles.

This bill would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code to eliminate the provisions that allow federally regulated employers to set a mandatory retirement age as an exception to the general rule prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age.

I am happy to say that I am in favour of doing away with mandatory retirement. However, for the reasons I will mention in my speech, I believe that this bill, as it currently stands, is much too broad.

However, I would first like to talk about our commitment to supporting Canadian seniors. As members already know, our government is working very hard to improve the lives of seniors in many ways. We created the position of minister of state for seniors. This is to bring the concerns of older Canadians to the cabinet table and to stand on their behalf. In 2007, we created the National Seniors Council to provide advice to the federal government on matters related to the well-being and quality of life of seniors. This year, one of the priorities of the National Seniors Council is labour force participation among seniors and near seniors.

More recently, we increased funding for the targeted initiative for older workers to assist unemployed older workers in vulnerable communities to retrain. This is a five-year, $220 million cost-shared initiative with the provincial and territorial governments. This shows our government's desire to encourage older workers to continue to contribute to the Canadian economy.

The legislative provisions allowing for mandatory retirement policies, which this bill would repeal, were written more than 30 years ago, at a time when mandatory retirement was both routine and part of our economic reality. In addition to many other stereotypes that have now been eliminated, there were often stereotypes about older workers. Thirty years ago, some people assumed that older workers could not do the job, that they were closed to new ideas or that they were not motivated to work because of their pension. It was assumed that younger workers should take their place.

Times have clearly changed. Today, average life expectancy is six years more than it was in 1977. Some people feel that they should be in the workforce longer and save more because they will be retired longer than they would have been in the past. Some people also want the freedom to take time off work or put their career on hold to raise children or take care of other family members. These people may want to retire later in life so that they can save more or acquire more pensionable years of service. And, despite progress in this area, women are largely affected by this issue.

Many people are staying in school longer than they were 30 years ago; as a result, they may join the labour force later. These people may also want to delay retirement.

We need to recognize that many people enjoy their work and gain a sense of personal satisfaction from it. Some people may want to retire early for any number of reasons; others do not. People should be able to choose when they want to retire based on their lifestyle, finances, health and priorities, as long as there are no compelling reasons to keep them from doing so.

At the same time, there are some real concerns that we need to consider if we intend to change the law. In some cases, employers may be completely justified in having a mandatory retirement policy, and the law should allow them to do so.

As written, the bill would repeal paragraph 15(1)(b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which authorizes mandatory retirement once an individual reaches the maximum age provided for by law or regulation. The bill goes a little too far. There may be cases in which it is necessary to pass a bill or regulations to set a maximum retirement age. One example that comes to mind is the Canadian Forces.

For a number of reasons, the Canadian Forces are a unique employer.

First, the Canadian Forces have to respect the principle of universality of service. Every time the Canadian Forces take part in international or national operations, including armed conflict, each member of the Canadian Forces must at all times and under any circumstances perform any functions that they may be required to perform other than the duties of their occupational specification. This includes the obligation to carry out military duties, such as combat, under extremely dangerous circumstances. Other federal government employees or members of the general public are not required to carry out this important duty.

This unique characteristic of the Canadian Forces requires a special approach to human resource management. To maintain a homogeneous and effective combat force, the Canadian Forces must have a mandatory retirement age to ensure a steady supply of personnel with the knowledge and experience required at each level. Fighter pilots, submariners and tank commanders cannot just be hired overnight. These people must devote many years to mastering their occupations within the Canadian Forces structure. These are the men and women we are counting on to become the future leaders of our Canadian Forces.

The Canadian Forces cannot maintain their international reputation for skills and excellence unless they continue receiving training that surpasses the minimum standard.

The Canadian Forces are a small force whose numbers are subject to a finite limit. Our armed forces cannot afford the luxury of maintaining individuals on active duty until their voluntary release, which would be decided by each member. This would lead directly to stagnation and have an impact on the effectiveness of the Canadian Forces in protecting Canada, its values and its interests.

If the Canadian Forces cannot maintain a mandatory retirement age, they could face serious financial and operational difficulties.

The Canadian Forces are unique in that they pay for all medical care for their personnel directly out of the departmental budget. An aging workforce within the Canadian Forces would increase the demands on available resources, which would in turn leave fewer funds available to properly carry out the forces' operational responsibilities.

That is why it is very important to ensure that the retirement age may be fixed by regulation under the authority of paragraph 15(1)(b).

This authority could also be useful in other cases, particularly in industries that are subject to international rules governing the maximum age for carrying out certain duties.

Furthermore, these policies are often negotiated as part of collective agreements and are sometimes linked to pension arrangements. Employers and unions will need some time to renegotiate these provisions and to make the appropriate changes to pension plans. Some employers will need time to determine whether they have sufficient information to impose a mandatory retirement age as a bona fide occupational requirement.

That is why it is very important to establish coming into force provisions; otherwise, making such a significant change without allowing employers and unions enough time to adjust could create some undesirable situations.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to speak to this matter. The question of mandatory retirement is both important and complex. I am proud of the work our government has done to support older Canadians.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

December 6th, 2010 / 11:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment le député pour Laval—Les Îles for this timely and important piece of legislation. I was very pleased to second this private member's bill because of its importance and timeliness.

I would like to start with a bit of my personal background that has led to my strong support for ending mandatory retirement.

Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code (mandatory retirement age) would bring Canada more into line with other countries and with the provinces and territories. My personal link to this legislation is through my mother Charlotte Murray. Charlotte went back to university when she had three children. Like many women, she entered her career and discovered her passion as an architect in mid-life, as a mature student. She graduated as an architect and went on to do her master's degree in architecture, and became a partner in a very well reputed firm in Vancouver. Charlotte retired at age 75.

In the last seven years of her career she was the lead architect for a major restoration renovation of Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Vancouver. It was the strength of her experience over those many years and her wisdom as an elder in society that allowed her to help the cathedral navigate through the complexities of a restoration process. She brought into the conversation those who felt there should be no change and those who felt there needed to be change, those who were supported by the cathedral through its compassionate programs and the many people who had ideas and interests in this project. As a well-respected and experienced heritage restoration architect, Charlotte Murray was able to steward this project through to a successful conclusion, and I will add that it was award winning. I am very proud of this project that my mother accomplished.

Had there been mandatory retirement in the private sector, which there was not, she would have had to give away her seal as an architect and not undertake projects like that in the last 10 years of her career. This is an example of how the requirement to retire due to age is discriminatory.

To enable people to work, if they are interested in doing so and able to contribute, is important on an individual basis and also on a collective basis for our society. It gives individuals a choice. It is also a compassionate option, especially in cases involving new Canadians or women and others who may have entered their careers later in life. These individuals are still getting fulfilment from their jobs and they are still interested in contributing to society. They may also need the income and the building of their pension program beyond the age of 60 or 65. It is a choice and a compassionate choice for individuals.

However, it also is an important policy and legislation to contribute to societal benefit. As a society we need to draw on the strengths of all those who have something to contribute. Our elders, especially, have a richness of experience and a richness of wisdom from which society can benefit. To ask those people who would like to continue to contribute through the workplace to step aside and stay home would not benefit society.

I have another connection with this legislation that I would like to mention.

Having been a member of the legislative assembly in British Columbia, I identified mandatory retirement as an issue in provincial legislation and brought it forward for examination by my riding association as a potential policy to put forward to the provincial convention. This was in about 2003 or 2004.

I engaged the attorney general of the day in some conversations about what it would take to end mandatory retirement in British Columbia. That policy of ending mandatory retirement was adopted by the provincial B.C. Liberal Party and went on to become law on January 1, 2008. I felt strongly about that in my provincial career. I was able to nudge things forward there, and I am very pleased to support the legislation today.

The last personal link I will mention is this. As the minister responsible for the B.C. public service agency earlier in my political career, it was clear that the gaps being left by the retirees in the public service would be hard to fill. A very large percentage of the civil service in British Columbia would be eligible to retire within the next five to ten years, taking with them all that wealth of experience and dedication to the public and public service. That group was not affected by mandatory retirement, but it highlighted the need for society to find all the ways possible to enable those people who wanted to continue to contribute past a certain age to do so. I worked with the deputy minister to find ways that we could draw people back into contributing to British Columbians.

I understand that only 2% of federally-regulated organizations are subject to mandatory retirement. However, that is still a lot of people when we think about the individual lives that can be touched by being forced to retire well ahead of where one feels still able and interested in contributing. That would be about 12,000 organizations of 840,000 people who are subject potentially to mandatory retirement provisions now and who would be freed from that with this legislation. Approximately 17,000 people are affected by this and could be freed from those restrictions.

We know that not everyone will want to continue working past the age that they are currently under a mandatory retirement provision. If it is like the general public, perhaps 10% or 12% of these 17,000 people would chose not to retire when they otherwise would have been forced to so. That is a large number of people for whom we could help make a compassionate choice, those who may need to continue to boost their pensions or may need to continue to have a paycheque. Perhaps they went into the workforce, as did my mother, in their thirties or early forties, and are just on a roll at the time that they are subject to mandatory retirement.

With demographic changes in our society, which was part of what I was experiencing with the B.C. public service agency, fewer young people are coming into the workforce, which is a potential disconnect between the jobs of the future and the competencies that people will have to hold those jobs. Any small or large measures we can consider would be important to address the potential skills shortages in the future.

It is important for members of Parliament to think not only about the individual compassionate good, but also the collective good. In my view, this is an important policy that addresses both of those aspects of good public policy. Therefore, I am pleased to support it.

Once again, I congratulate the member of Parliament for Laval—Les Îles for her initiative in bringing this forward.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

December 6th, 2010 / 11:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege for me to speak in Parliament to represent the voters of Laval—Les Îles, and I am honoured by the confidence they have in me to defend their interests in Ottawa.

It is a commitment I take very seriously as a legislator in the duties I perform each day on their behalf, and by extension, on behalf of all the residents of Canada, regardless of the province, of the race, of the ethnicity and, in this case, of their age. There should be no distinction. Upholding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on their behalf is part of our commitment.

I wish to thank my hon. colleagues for giving me the opportunity to present and discuss Bill C-481.

First, I would like to recognize my colleague, the member of Parliament for Edmonton East, Alberta, for his generosity in giving me the opportunity to complete the second hour of debate today instead of next February. I also thank my distinguished colleague, the member for Souris—Moose Mountain, Saskatchewan, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour for his thoughtful and reasoned remarks and support.

I want to assure the parliamentary secretary that the amendments he proposed and other amendments proposed on behalf of the government will be carefully reviewed. They certainly have merit. I hope that our discussions and potential amendments will be perceived as amicable when the time comes in committee. If so, this important and highly anticipated piece of legislation could be passed quickly. I want the parliamentary secretary to know that the current wording of paragraph 15(1)(b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act was not the main problem raised by the tribunal or as part of the Federal Court judicial review.

Nonetheless, as we looked at what other legislative measures may be needed, this clause was raised as an appendage that might no longer be needed. However, his points are well taken with respect to the military.

I would like to take this opportunity to correct a few myths about mandatory retirement.

People across Canada are working well past the age of 65 in 2010. Even though some 400,000 Canadians aged 50 to 75 indicated in the Statistics Canada survey that they had previously retired, 58% of males had returned to work, with 32% returning because of financial reasons, the second most important reason.

The bill would impact only about 10% of the Canadian workforce. These are federally-regulated private sector organizations. They include scientists and engineers, as well as the railway, for example.

I want to remind hon. members of McKinney v. the University of Guelph in 1990. At the time, the Supreme Court ruled that paragraph 9(a) of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which limited protection under the code to people between 18 and 65, violated section 15 of the Charter, but was saved by section 1. Why? Because that was the norm.

The irony is that the judges who heard the professor's case and other similar cases were over 60.

It is therefore incorrect to believe that everyone continues to work by choice.

We can fast forward 16 years. The Ontario legislature, the legislature of my province of Quebec and all other provincial and territorial legislatures of this land have abolished mandatory retirement in their human rights codes.

I wish to make one last point on this.

The important thing, as one of the Supreme Court justices said in 1999 in Tawney Meiorin, is this:

Recognition of the equality of each individual must be built into workplace standards. These requirements apply even in the context of unionized workplaces.

Many people told me stories about their professional and personal lives when they found out that I was going to introduce this bill. It is clear that this bill is timely and that it will be useful and necessary for the target population.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

November 15th, 2010 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

moved that Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code (mandatory retirement age), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Laval—Les Îles, I am proud to rise in this House to speak to Bill C-481 at second reading. The bill we are discussing today would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code regarding mandatory retirement age.

My bill has three main objectives. The first is to repeal subsection 9(2) of the Canadian Human Rights Act. This amendment would ensure that unions and federal employees' organizations would no longer have the ability to exclude, expel or suspend an individual from membership in the organization because that individual has reached the normal age of retirement for individuals working in positions similar to the position of that individual. To clarify, this means within the same professional group, but not necessarily in the same organization.

The second objective is to replace paragraphs 15(1)(b) and 15(1)(c) of the Canadian Human Rights Act with the following for paragraph 15(1)(b):

It will be possible to terminate the employment of an individual who has not reached the minimum age that applies to that employment by law or under regulations that may be made by the Governor in Council.

The third objective is to repeal paragraph 235(2)(b) of the Canada Labour Code. By repealing this paragraph of the Canada Labour Code, the legislator is ensuring that the employer will be obligated to pay severance pay to an employee who reaches an age at which the individual is entitled to receive a retirement pension from a complementary pension fund.

Many public service employees subject to union agreements do not want to give up their severance pay, which is a one-time payment. For many people, particularly single mothers or newcomers into the Canadian labour force, being able to stay at work longer is an important part of their career plan. Many who have been unable to save enough for retirement are depending on the extra money as part of their transition into retirement.

According to a 2008 Statistics Canada survey, only 29% of older workers indicated that their workplace pension would be their main source of income and only 14% have RRSPs. These preliminary results were recently presented by Jean Pignal, from the surveys division of Statistics Canada, at a workshop in Ottawa.

For the information of members, according to the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada website, approximately 12,000 federally regulated businesses and industries are employing 840,000 people, or 10% of Canadian workers under the Canada Labour Code, who would be affected by this bill if it were to become law.

Before I go further in the time I have, I will briefly inform the House of the genesis of Bill C-481. I will not go into lengthy detail about the cases that sparked my bill because there are several layers to these cases, including a Federal Court judicial review.

On August 28, 2009, in its second decision, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that it was discrimination based on age for Air Canada to force two of its pilots to retire because they had reached age 60. According to the tribunal, the Air Canada Pilots Association had knowingly signed a union agreement with Air Canada that violated section 15 of the charter prohibiting discrimination on a number of grounds, including age.

The tribunal also ruled that not only had the Canadian Human Rights Act been breached because it prohibits discrimination based on age, but paragraph 15(1)(c) of the Canadian Human Rights Act is contrary to the charter because it perpetuates the prejudice with the following statement:

an individual’s employment is terminated because that individual has reached the normal age of retirement for employees working in positions similar to the position of that individual;

Bill C-481 aims to revoke that paragraph.

The tribunal based its first decision, which was set aside by the Federal Court in its judicial review, on its perception of what was normal, especially whether other airlines had the same requirements. In fact, not all airlines have the same requirements, at least not all Canadian airlines.

The earliest available statistics show us that between 1920 and 1922 it was normal for males to have an average life expectancy of 59 years and for females 61 years. However, in the 21st century we have a vastly different Canadian population than in the early 1900s. Today, life expectancy for males is 78.3 years and for females 80.7 years on average. In other words, what was normal then in terms of age is certainly no longer normal today.

The original conditions for mandatory retirement were unquestionably based on the social reality. Following the second world war, workers demanded stable jobs, better access to health care and safe workplaces. Workers asked for permanent economic security despite dips in the economy. The government listened to these concerns and created a number of social programs.

However, as unions gained strength in speaking for workers' rights, the mandatory retirement age of 60 became normal practice in union agreements. Today, in the 21st century, our social environment dictates a different course of action.

As federal legislators, it is our duty to set the standards in our laws. Our charter gives us that guidance. Transport Canada, in case my colleagues are not aware, sets the licensing policies for all our pilots. There are very stringent rules.

If this section of the Canadian Human Rights Act remains, it would continue to set a blanket standard for all organizations without paying attention to the charter or the specific norms that dictate policies within that organization, even though work positions may appear to be similar.

Just a few days ago, on November 8, 2010, the tribunal ordered Air Canada to compensate George Vilven, 67, and Neil Kelly, 65. Air Canada must reinstate these two former employees with the level of seniority they would have reached had they continued to work. They must also be compensated for lost wages and benefits associated with their seniority as well as for the pain and suffering they endured.

In fact, the tribunal was even harsher in its criticism and called on Air Canada and its union to pay for wilful and reckless damage. Unfortunately, the Human Rights Tribunal does not have the power to extend its decision to other cases. The decision rendered is only pertinent to these two complaints.

The tribunal cannot force Air Canada and the association to stop signing agreements that include mandatory requirements. Therefore, this clause, according to the tribunal in its remedial actions, remains operative. Only we as legislators have the power to repeal the defence now being used to terminate employees in any federally regulated employee organization by amending the law as it now stands.

It has long been recognized by the courts that this is a complex issue and can only be resolved by the legislature.

In 2006, when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was considering gradually raising the maximum age limit for pilots to 65 years, the Government of Canada said it agreed with the idea but its official response was negative because Canada wanted to eliminate the age limit, given that section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms prohibits discrimination on the basis of age. Canada does not reduce the privileges of a pilot who has reached the age of 60. Canada does not object if a pilot who is over 60 and holds a valid medical certificate from an ICAO contracting state pilots a registered foreign aircraft in Canadian airspace.

Research shows that, according to current trends, abolishing mandatory retirement should not have a significant impact on the average age of new retirees or on the total number of years worked. For people concerned about the consequences—I have spoken to many of them—the research indicates that two-thirds of older workers choose to retire before age 65, 43% of all workers retire before 65 and the average retirement age for all workers was 61 in 1991. In addition, 11.8% of Canadians between 65 and 69 years of age were part of the labour force in 2001. Immigrants and women may remain in the labour force longer to build up larger pensions. Employers are better able to plan for turnover.

I call upon my colleagues to pass the bill as quickly as possible so we can continue to uphold the hard-won rights of citizens of Canada and all those who fought and continue to fight for the type of democracy in which we are so privileged to live today.

I would like my colleagues opposite to remember that Brian Mulroney's Conservative government, in 1986, accepted the principle that served as the basis for the sixth recommendation in the report of the Parliamentary Committee on Equal Rights, which suggested that the Canadian Human Rights Act be amended so that employers could not invoke certain grounds.

Since then, we have made a number of changes and we must continue to build our labour force. The unions I have spoken to are prepared to implement these changes. A number of them went before the Canadian Human Rights Commission on behalf of their members and won their cases.

History holds our everyday lives together. Let us not be stuck in tradition because of the implemented laws that were necessary then. Let us use reasoned experience to guide us as legislators in the 21st century to continue to do the right thing for Canadians.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

November 15th, 2010 / 11:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about two different things. I am talking about one thing and I think that my hon. colleague is talking about another. I am talking about equal circumstances where the employee is doing a good job and there are no complaints on the part of the employer.

We are talking about a certain type of employer. We are talking about the Government of Canada and companies that are linked to the Government of Canada but are at arm's-length.

The kind of situation I am talking about is when an employer has no complaints, but tells an employee who is now 65 years old that he or she must retire.

Bill C-481 is not concerned with people who are not doing their jobs correctly. If an employee is not doing his or her job correctly, then the onus is on the employer to present that to him or her.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

November 15th, 2010 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to respond to Bill C-481, tabled in this House by my hon. colleague from Laval—Les Îles, with some background with respect to the government's position on this bill.

The bill proposes to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code. It would, in effect, put a stop to allowing mandatory retirement within the federally regulated private sector.

I commend my hon. colleague for having reintroduced this bill, which was first introduced in this House last November.

The matter of whether we should continue to have mandatory retirement in the federally regulated private sector is something that should be explored. It is timely. Therefore, this matter can be debated and must be debated here in Parliament. Mandatory retirement, as an issue, is taking on more importance for a number of reasons. Among them is the fact that our population is aging and our birthrate is in decline.

My view, and the position of the Government of Canada, is that there is a lot of merit in pursuing what is being proposed in Bill C-481. Provided that some additional amendments are made, the government would be prepared to support this bill.

I will identify those necessary amendments in a moment but first I would like to take a few moments to talk about why the provisions in this bill are important. The worker's right to choose is one of them.

Forcing someone to retire because of age is a form of discrimination. Unless there are compelling reasons, such as health and safety concerns, workers should have the right to choose when they retire. It should be a choice based on lifestyle and financial and health circumstances. It should not be decided for someone because they have reached a defined age.

Today, approximately 10% of Canada's population continues to work after age 65. The average age of retirement in Canada is 62. Given these facts, it is worth noting that mandatory retirement policies in the federally regulated private sector currently affect very few employees in practice. How few are affected by the mandatory retirement? Less than 2% of the federally regulated employers. Among large employers with 100 employees or more, about 10% have a mandatory retirement policy. That is a major drop from about 25% in the late 1990s. Within the federal public service, the practice of mandatory retirement ended in 1986. There has been consistent progress.

Turning to my next point, Bill C-481 is important as it represents consistent progress toward current employment practices. By eliminating blanket exemptions and exceptions for mandatory retirement in the federal jurisdiction, we would help align federal rules so that they are consistent with the provincial and territorial human rights legislation.

Having said this, some modest amendments are necessary before the government can give full support to this bill. Specifically, we must consider what the repeal of paragraph 15(1)(b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act would entail. It would remove the ability of the Government of Canada to enact regulations that could set out maximum age requirements for those groups for whom specific age requirements are necessary. That regulation-making power is important, so it needs to be maintained.

There is a regulation enacted under the authority of paragraph 15(1)(b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act that supports the mandatory retirement policy currently in place for the Canadian Forces. This poses a concern to the government in Bill C-481, in its current form.

Repeal of this paragraph would pose significant challenges to the operational capability of the Canadian Forces. It also could have an impact on their ability to contain costs and to manage military personnel effectively and efficiently.

To maintain an effective and ready force, the Canadian Forces must recruit from within its ranks. It requires a continuous flow of personnel to ensure appropriate experience and expertise throughout the ranks. The longer members serve, the more wear and tear they will incur due to the physical and psychological demands of military service and the greater the risk will be of individual performance failures with consequences for mission success and the health and safety of others.

For these reasons, the Canadian Forces seeks to maintain its existing mandatory retirement policy. Therefore, amendments are needed to safeguard the government's ability to effectively manage the Canadian Forces.

There are other areas, such as interprovincial and international transportation activities where there may be circumstances that warrant a mandatory policy.

Moreover, departments whose mandates cover the affected stakeholder group, for example, Transport Canada with respect to the airline and maritime industry, may wish to propose regulations for consideration to allow mandatory retirement policies for those industries as long as they are necessary and proportional under the charter.

With respect to severance pay, the bill also proposes to amend the Canada Labour Code to remove the provision that denies employees severance pay upon involuntary termination if they are eligible for pension benefits, whether public or private. Age should not be a determinant of eligibility for severance pay. All workers should be eligible for severance pay when they are involuntarily terminated. For this reason, I support repealing this provision as proposed in the bill. Further, an adjustment period is required.

We also propose that a provision be added to Bill C-481 so that there is a transition period. This is important. It would help unions and employers make adjustments to adapt to the changes. It would give them time to review their human resource policies, pensions, benefit plans, and collective agreements to ensure compliance. This is a sensible thing to do. It would ensure a smooth transition.

Abolishing the practice of mandatory retirement within the federal jurisdiction would be consistent with current Government of Canada policies regarding older workers. Canada is facing the challenges of an aging population. It is projected that the proportion of Canadians aged 65 or older will increase from 13% to roughly 25%.

In addition, the ratio of workers to pensioners is expected to shrink from four workers for every retiree to two workers for every retiree. All of this would happen by 2030. Within that period of time, these massive demographic changes will mean added fiscal pressures on Canada's ability to manage increasing health care and pension plan costs. Canada will need to retain its skilled, seasoned workers and make greater use of their talents for longer.

These measures would also benefit women and immigrant workers in Canada, two groups that are more likely to re-enter the workforce or join it later in life than others. By prohibiting this workplace practice, these workers will be able to accrue additional years of service and strengthen their financial security should they wish to continue working beyond the fixed retirement age.

Let me restate the Government of Canada's position on Bill C-481. We would be prepared to support it provided that the following three amendments are adopted. First, the bill should be amended to maintain the regulation-making power in paragraph 15(1)(b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Second, the bill should include a transition provision to allow employers and unions to adjust to the changes. Third, the bill should include a coming into force provision.

The proposed approach makes good policy sense. Although in practice it will affect only a very small number of federal jurisdiction private sector employees, it would remove barriers to continue labour market participation for older workers. This approach would also allow the government to retain its regulation-making power with regard to imposing mandatory retirement in exceptional cases for certain industries due to health, safety, and operational reasons and to ensure compliance with international laws and regulations.

With those exceptions, we are prepared to support the bill as proposed by my hon. colleague.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

November 15th, 2010 / 11:30 a.m.
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Bloc

Daniel Paillé Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is our turn to speak to the bill before us here today, Bill C-481. Basically, I believe I can sum up our feelings, our response to this bill, by saying that it is long overdue.

I find it quite interesting that, at the end of 2010, and with a bill from the official opposition no less, the government seems to accept this idea. However, we must be wary of the recent proposed amendments, because the government has already played that game, specifically, by giving the power to create regulations and implement legislation, although that is usually its way of evading the issue. It says that we can do whatever we like in the House, that we can pass any bills we like, but it will not necessarily implement them.

When a bill is introduced in the House and supported by the majority in this House, it should be implemented. However, I do realize there is a transition period.

At this time, human rights laws and the Canada Labour Code allow both employers and unions to tell people celebrating their 65th birthday that, while they may have been good workers yesterday, tomorrow they will be too old. So those workers are thanked and shown the door. The Canada Labour Code allows this. And this does not apply only to a limited number of employers; it also applies to all Government of Canada employees. Thus, when anyone who works in the public service or for any Crown corporation turns 65, he or she can be told, “Thank you and congratulations, but we no longer need you, so, good bye”.

This is one of the best examples of the difference between Quebec society and Canadian society and it must be respected. We have to wonder how this came about. It is quite simply because we are different. When we say that Quebec is not like Canada, of course that is because of language issues, because of the way we regulate our markets and because of many other things, especially because Quebec was given that right in 1982. We have been different in that respect for nearly 30 years. We are different because we said, why not? Just because someone celebrates their 65th birthday does not mean they suddenly become incompetent, that they are not needed and that we can get rid of them. Since 1982, we have not seen this type of behaviour in Quebec by either employers or unions. No one in Quebec would ever consider the idea of wishing someone a happy birthday and then never seeing them again.

Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, a person can be prevented from joining a union and a union has the right to expel or suspend a union member. Remarkably, the Canada Labour Code makes it possible to get rid of those people. In Quebec, we have the fundamental right to live and the fundamental right to keep working. It is the way attitudes evolve. Earlier we heard some statistics. In 2001, the Government of Canada conducted studies that found that in 20 years—in 2021—or 10 years from now, there would be as many Canadians 65 and older as children. We know that the baby boomers are beginning to retire now.

In the provinces, there has been every manner of tax and fee possible and unimaginable in order to have a health care system. What does it accomplish? Among other things, it allows us to live longer.

It also makes it possible to tell people that 65 is not old. It is one year older than 64 and one year younger than 66. It is a number; that is all. The age of 65 is not synonymous with incapacity or incompetence.

Some would say that there are dangerous occupations that require a certain amount of dexterity. I agree, but a loss of dexterity does not necessarily occur at age 65. It may occur at age 50. Very few of us here could play hockey in the National Hockey League, not because we are old but because we no longer have the ability to do so, and it is not at age 65 that this happens.

Unelected senators can serve until they are 75 years old, while MPs can serve in the House as long as the voters continue to elect us to office. So, in Quebec, we determined that the people should also be able to work until they freely decide to retire.

Are we able to live off our retirement pensions at age 65? I am the vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Finance. A number of people have come to see us here in Ottawa to tell us that they cannot retire at age 65 because of a lack of income. They want to be able to continue working to achieve their full potential, because they are fit and because they want to pass on their knowledge. Why not?

Before I was elected to Parliament, I taught at the HEC Montréal, where people passed on their knowledge. People are asked to pass on their knowledge to younger generations. There is a problem if the mandatory retirement age is set at 65. On the other hand, people need to have the means to retire at 65. The people who came to see us said that because of what they get in Canada and Quebec pension plan benefits and the fact that the guaranteed income supplement is not paid automatically in Canada, they have a hard time making ends meet once they reach 65. Why not let these people keep on working? But the way to do it is not by making regulations and asking the government to implement this legislation when it sees fit. Canadians want this bill to be passed in 2010. Quebec has had similar legislation since 1982.

I am currently touring Quebec with some of my Bloc colleagues and talking to people about our budget expectations for 2011. A number of people told us we should carry on with our work, and that is what we are doing. In Quebec, no one is telling us that the mandatory retirement age should be 65, except for people working in labour relations in Canada.They wonder why their neighbours should have the right to keep on working when they do not because of the Canada Labour Code. That is discrimination.

The minister or the parliamentary secretary is saying that he could support such a bill with these amendments, but that basically the Government of Canada does not want to. Canada is free to prevent people from working after age 65. In Quebec, we saw the light 30 years ago. That is one more reason to respect each other despite our differences.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

November 15th, 2010 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-481, a bill which would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code to prohibit federally regulated employers, and that is private sector employers subject to federal acts and regulations, as well as the federal public administration from setting a mandatory retirement age.

I welcome this debate because it allows us to finally take a closer look at the myth of mandatory retirement in our country. In fact, there is no universal prohibition in place now that would stop all Canadians from working past the age of 65. People over 65 are working all over the country. They are university professors, doctors, lawyers and, as I look around this chamber, apparently quite a few politicians too.

Those of us in these professions are blessed. We make up a small percentage of working adults who actually enjoy our work, at least I hope we do. For me, the work that I do right now is gratifying and I am excited about the chance to do it on a daily basis. I know most other members in the House feel the same way.

However, we are fortunate, and we are definitely in the minority. Most of the world, most of the working people in our country, are not like us. Most working men and women do not have jobs that are clean and safe. Working for them is not a vocation or a calling; it is simply a necessity.

I think about the industrial workers in my home town of Hamilton. I think about the tens of thousands of men and women who have worked in the steel mills. They are not desk jockeys. They were walking along catwalks around furnaces, molten steel flying and splashing and they have the scars from 20 and 30 years of being burned by it. It is hotter than Hades and they are inhaling particulate matter that will impact them for the rest of their lives.

They are not there because they love the smell of molten steel. They are there so they can take home a paycheque at the end of a long week's work. Despite the fact that their bodies are no longer as strong in their 50s as they were in their 20s, they keep working because they need the money to pay off their second mortgage, not a new mortgage for a better home, but the second time they have taken out a mortgage on their existing homes so they can finance their children's college or university education. They are desperate for an exit point.

It is not just about steelworkers. It is about workers in hundreds of occupations in jobs from coast to coast to coast. It is about miners in Sudbury and Voisey's Bay. It is about construction workers whose back-breaking work exposes them to the cruellest of elements. It is about nurses whose physical jobs give their profession the highest rate of workplace injuries in the country.

The bill before us today is about federally regulated workplaces, but the same physical strains exist for many of the proud members of the teamsters or the CAW, CEP, CUPW, CUPE, PSAC, and I could go on. Their jobs are not like ours. There comes a time when their bodies just cannot do it anymore, and that is to say nothing of their souls.

That is why pensions are always at the forefront of negotiations in organized workplaces. People are not looking to work past the age of 65. They want to be able to retire as early as possible, and as early as possible usually means a time when their pensions will have accrued to a sufficient amount to allow for a retirement with relative income security.

The normal age for retirement in Canada has therefore become 65. Age 65 is when the old age security pension benefits begin, and most private and public retirement plans have been designed to provide income to people starting at 65. A specific age is needed because people have to select premium payments by contributors to calculate how much money is available to retirees when they leave the program, which is to say, when they retire. In that way retirement age and retirement income are inextricably linked.

We have had a number of debates in the House about the inadequacy of public pensions and the increasing incidents of solvency insufficiencies in private pension plans. To date, the government has merely paid lip service to improving those pension systems. While they wait for the government to act, literally thousands of Canadians, who have worked hard all their lives and who have played by the rules, are finding it impossible to make ends meet on their meagre pension incomes.

Therefore, what do they do? They go out and find another job to supplement their pensions. The now iconic Wal-Mart greeter is but one example. Thousands of seniors are now working in the retail sector and at fast food places, not because these are their dream jobs but because they have to survive.

Let us be absolutely clear. These seniors are not working by choice. They are working these minimum wage jobs in their golden years because it keeps the wolves at bay. It is not about choice. All too often that is the language the mandatory retirement debate wraps itself in, but this is really a debate about values.

For decades, trade unionists and other activists fought hard and struggled to ensure that future generations would not have to work until they dropped dead in the workplace. They fought for pensions and a retirement at a reasonable enough age that older Canadians could spend their senior years doing all the things they did not have time to do while they were working, perhaps volunteering, perhaps teaching English as a second language, perhaps helping raise their grandchildren or perhaps even going back to school. Those options offer real choices, and they are an integral part of the fulfilling retirement we promised workers in exchange for the wage concessions and taxes they contributed toward building their pension funds.

When women work past the age of 65, it is not because they would not rather be pursuing other interests. To paraphrase American Democrat Paul Tsongas, nobody on her deathbed ever said “I wish I'd spent more time at the office”. But women's work in the home has been so devalued by successive Liberal and Conservative governments in Canada that many women do not have adequate pension contributions to be able to survive without a paying job in their golden years.

However that is not a so-called choice that women should have to make. The solution to that is not the abolition of mandatory retirement. The solution is to recognize, value and compensate the incredibly hard work women do in their homes and revamp the system to take into account late entries into the workforce or interrupted participation. Only when such a system is in place would women have a real choice about whether or not to work past the age of 65.

So again, debates about retirement age and retirement income are inextricably linked.

Herein lies the real fear about legislation that seeks to abolish mandatory retirement. As I said before, thousands of Canadians are already working past the age of 65, and there is no law that prohibits that. But 65 is the accepted age for pension calculations. So by doing away with what is described as mandatory retirement, the fear is that it will allow pension fund managers, both public and private, to raise the age for pension eligibility. Let us be clear. There is a huge lobby from the corporate side for precisely that, because there are huge cost savings at stake for employers. For every year that the retirement age is raised beyond 65, the employer's pension liabilities are reduced dramatically.

Heck, I would wager that the only reason Canadian pension legislation passed with an age limit of 65 in the first place is that, at that time, the average life expectancy of a Canadian, predominantly male, worker was 57 years of age. Clearly, it is not a great risk to offer pensions at 65 when a third of eligible workers would never, ever reach it.

Fortunately, life expectancies are now well into the eighties for Canadians. But existing pensions are proving wholly inadequate. Two-thirds of Canadians do not have a company pension plan. One-third of Canadian families have no retirement savings, and management fees from some mutual funds can consume as much as 35% to 45% of RRSP savings over a period of 40 years. Canadians are looking to their government for help.

However, the government is looking at the issue through a different lens. Life expectancies into the eighties mean that both governments and employers are looking for a way out of meeting their pension obligations, and the abolition of the mandatory retirement age is the first step down on that slippery slope.

I cannot wait to hear from Canadians when this bill is dealt with in committee. I can well imagine that there will be some who do sincerely want to continue their research or other professional pursuits well past the age of 65, and I acknowledge that the typical justification for mandatory retirement may not be appropriate. After all, if the argument is that certain occupations are either too dangerous or require too high a level of physical or mental skill for most people over the age of 65, then the age does seem somewhat arbitrary since it is not based on an actual physical evaluation of an individual person. That is where arguments about discrimination or ageism legitimately enter the debate.

Unless there are meaningful reforms to the pension system first, I find it hard to believe that the abolition of mandatory retirement would be in the interests of the hardworking Canadians I represent in my riding of Hamilton Mountain, and I cannot wait to hear from them on this important issue when the bill comes to committee.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

November 15th, 2010 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Laval—Les Îles for bringing forward Bill C-481, which has been before this place in the past. I am pleased to hear the input of other colleagues and other parties as well.

As we know, the bill itself is seeking to repeal subsection 9(2) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, to replace paragraphs 15(1)(b) and (c) of the Canadian Human Rights Act and, third, to repeal paragraph 235(2)(b) of the Canada Labour Code.

Ultimately this all has to do with the subject matter of mandatory retirement age, and in fact, recently courts have ruled that the case of Air Canada and a couple of pilots was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What I would like to talk about is why we should do this.

Pragmatically, the last speaker raised some interesting points about what some employers would do to take advantage of that situation, but this bill in no way amends pension plans that organizations have established. Pension benefits and defined pension benefit plans lay out the number of years of service necessary to accrue the vesting that is necessary to get maximum benefits. Should any employer decide it wants to propose changes to any of its benefit plans, including its pension benefit plan, that is a matter between the employer and the employees and the existing pensioners, to determine whether it is in the best interests of the employees and the long-term benefit of a pension plan for that organization.

However this is a situation where we have a life expectancy in Canada that has increased enormously over the last few decades. As I mentioned earlier in a question, the age of 65, in terms of the age at which people were no longer useful, came up during the time of Bismarck, and the people at age 65 were referred to as the unnecessary eaters. They were the burdens of society.

My father-in-law passed away at age 65. He virtually worked for the same company all his working life, but when he reached the age of 65, all of a sudden he did not go to work. The door was closed. There was this barrier. It was mandatory and he left that job. He was dead within three months. I think it was the culture shock of having lost that life and that involvement. He was a sharp, bright guy who did an extremely good job for his company, but that is just what the rules were.

I have to wonder whether or not this is another reason that we have to deal with this, because there are people who have the capacity and the physical and mental ability to do excellent jobs. When we look at some of the fundamentals, for example, that today about 70% of the jobs in Canada require post-secondary education and in 10 years 77% of jobs will require post-secondary education, we cannot keep up with the demand for qualified people to do jobs. Therefore there is a lot of pressure from companies to keep employees longer, because they have the experience and the expertise. They are going to allow that flexibility to companies to be able to have that expertise, to bring along and train those to take over important positions.

As the mover of the bill mentioned, this particular bill is only going to affect about 10% of employees in Canada, but I have a feeling that it will be a subject matter that will be taken up in all jurisdictions as it relates to retirement age.

I must admit that there will be some arguments. We heard some from the last speaker, the arguments some people might have in opposing this bill, and in fact there are a number that the mover has identified. One is that unions might have some concern because they fought to protect workers' rights.

There is this concern about a slippery slope, that somehow this bill would give them a foundation or a route to be able to use and that companies would start to erode away pension rights under the plans they operate. This bill has nothing to do with that. That is really a matter that is the purview of other jurisdictions and in fact of the company and the unions representing the employees in these matters.

Every plan lays out, in detail, the criteria necessary for people to qualify for benefits, how many years they have to serve and at what age they can start to collect. Many plans emulate some of the things the Canada pension plan has, where people can elect to take early retirement at an actuarially reduced amount or may defer their pension. A lot of teachers do. In fact, with an OMERS pension, people can defer their pension and even after they have retired can make additional premium contributions to top up by having additional investments in the plan.

There are many issues here. I would not be too concerned about the slippery slope argument. This bill is not suggesting, in any way, shape or form, that other jurisdictions would have to look at the impact. It is their responsibility to look at that.

The displacement of younger workers is another issue that will come up, I suspect, as the labour markets expand. As I indicated, we do have situations now where we are unable to fill all of the skill sets necessary in jobs that are available in Canada now, which is why we have had a significant increase in the demand for new Canadians to come, who have those skill sets. We need a better balance, obviously, of training and education for people who are in Canada so that we can, as a normal course, fill those jobs.

This is not an issue now. In fact the flexibility in the system for people who have reached age 60 or 65, depending on the institution we are talking about, has that latitude.

As I pointed out earlier, we have come through some very difficult times. Clearly the adequacy of pensions for today's retirees is a very serious issue. There are a lot of people who have not been able to accrue sufficient pension benefits.

What do we expect people to do under a mandatory retirement system, when they can no longer have the continuity of their job? If they leave this job, where they are an engineer making $150,000, trying to make sure they have their retirement, what do they do?

They have to go to some other employer to see if that employer will hire them under its rules. How many of these people go to nominal jobs that do not really match their skill sets and do not make them feel useful? This makes no sense.

It does make sense when people have choices. Workers have the right to choose to stay and to continue to provide good service.

I do know that there are provisions in certain elements of society where people cannot go on beyond a certain age. One of the ones I was involved in was firefighting. There was an amendment made to allow firefighters to qualify for full Canada pension benefits earlier than the normal age of 65. The reason was that the life expectancy of firefighters is substantially less than the national average, because of the dangers and the risks to health associated with that profession.

There are others. I think one of the concerns that may come up is with regard to pilots. We have a 67-year-old pilot who was forced out of his job. We have to presume here, very clearly, and it is not a presumption; it is a requirement. We have to presume that for those who choose to continue to work in a job, the understanding is that they continue to be fully qualified, fully trained, up to date, physically and mentally fit as necessary to be able to do the job in a perfectly satisfactory fashion in accordance to the criteria of the employer.

This is not to say that a pilot who has lost the edge can continue to be a pilot. The issue is that meeting the job criteria fully is the presumption here and we are really talking about choice for workers.

This bill from the member for Laval—Les Îles is a bill that is well worthwhile to move forward quickly and get the full support of this House.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Routine Proceedings

November 6th, 2009 / noon
See context

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code (mandatory retirement age).

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today in this House to introduce my bill on human rights and the Canada Labour Code to prohibit federally regulated employers from setting a mandatory retirement age. This would include private-sector employers subject to federal acts and regulations, as well as the federal public administration.

I would like to thank the member for Vancouver Quadra for her support on the bill.

The purpose of my bill goes one step beyond the decision of April 9 by the Federal Court of Canada, which found that age discrimination violated the charter following complaints by two Air Canada pilots. This was followed by a Human Rights Tribunal decision on August 28, which said, in part, that mandatory retirement was an affront to the right to equality and found that the infringement of equality rights through mandatory retirement could no longer be justified.

My bill would remove the offending provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Code and other federal acts and regulations.

These changes would affect more than 840,000 Canadians, or 10% of the country's labour force, at a time when our birth rate is on the decline. I hope that members on both sides of this house will support the swift passage of this bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)