Thank you, Chair, and thank you to the committee for having me today.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees is the largest trade union in the country. We represent 650,000 workers across the country, mostly in the public sector. Pensions and retirement security are issues we take very seriously. I'm a pension specialist with CUPE, so I'll be focusing on the income question before you today.
We see the same things everyone sees. We see that most Canadian workers don't have a pension at work and that the few who do are seeing the quality of those pensions under pressure from employers. We see that individualized savings systems such as the RSP and the TFSA predominantly benefit workers at the higher-income, higher-wealth end of the spectrum, and that as Richard Shillington told you yesterday, Canadians who don't have a pension at work—most Canadians—have wholly insufficient retirement savings.
This is why one in three seniors in Canada receives the guaranteed income supplement that keeps most, but not all, Canadian seniors out of poverty. We've actually seen Canadian senior poverty levels ticking up slowly, steadily, since the mid-1990s. The major attacks we've seen on pension plans have been relatively recent, in the last couple of decades. It takes a long time for that to work itself through the system and to be seen on the ground in future seniors, but the indications we're getting from research by academics and statisticians is that significant portions of the boomer generation have not saved enough for retirement. They are looking at a big drop in living standards when they retire, and the problem is projected to get worse for future generations.
This is why CUPE and the labour movement in Canada were so supportive of the government's successful expansion of the Canada Pension Plan in the deal that you reached last year. We recognize that this was not an easy thing to do, so we applaud you for doing it. We know it could have gone much further. We were essentially pushing for a doubling of CPP benefits; we got an increase of about one-third in CPP benefits. Much more could have been done there, but we applaud the work that was done. We should continue this critical campaign to improve the Canada Pension Plan and improve public pension plans in Canada.
A major shortcoming of the CPP expansion deal in the legislation that implemented that deal, Bill C-26, was the lack of child rearing and disability dropout provisions. Basically, a CPP benefit is a function of your lifetime earnings over your career, so if you have a period of zero or low earnings while you're working, that's going to pull your CPP benefits down someday. Governments realize this, and they realize there are some inequities in what we call the dropout provisions in the CPP. There's been a long-standing dropout for disabilities, meaning that if you were disabled and away from the workforce, those years were dropped from your CPP calculation and you were not penalized because you were unable to work. The same provision existed for decades for child rearing if you were at home raising a small child.
These provisions had long been part of the CPP, so we were quite frankly shocked to see that they weren't included in the CPP expansion legislation. They're going to continue to exist in the CPP we've always known, but they're not going to exist in the new benefits that are going to sit on top.
We don't think there's a rationale for this situation. We flagged it for government when Bill C-26 was tabled, but the government passed the legislation unamended and essentially punted this issue to the triennial review of CPP, 2016 to 2018. We urge the government to work with the provinces to fix this issue before these changes start to take effect.
The child-rearing dropout predominantly impacts female seniors. It's mostly women who take up that provision, and disabled seniors, obviously, people who have had a disability in their working career. These are among the most vulnerable future seniors in Canada, and they don't need more challenges in retirement. This is an easy fix. It's not a costly item, and we urge you to fix it.
I was going to make a point about how the old age security program increases over time, but I know Richard Shillington made it very eloquently on Tuesday. It's indexed to prices, not to wages. The chief actuary predicts that wages are going to go up faster than prices. He thinks prices are going to go up by 2% a year and wages are going to up by about 3%, so the old age security system will essentially be falling behind the standard of living by a per cent in every year that this situation is not remedied.
Other OECD countries peg their social security system to wages as well. There are different ways of doing this. This is a long-term problem for old age security. It's been around for a long time. If it's not fixed, we're going to see that program continue to shrink, compared to living standards as a whole.
I'd like to turn briefly to Bill C-27. This is federal legislation tabled by Minister Morneau about a year ago. It's still only at first reading. This is a bill we are strongly opposed to and that the labour movement is strongly opposed to. It would give federally regulated employers—banks, telecoms, airlines, crown corporations—a legal avenue to basically walk back on pension promises they've made to workers and retirees. They currently can't do that under pension law. This bill would give them the legal ability to do that.
I'm sure you've all heard the public outcry about Sears retirees not getting what they were promised. This is not something Canadians support. It's not something the labour movement supports. We're shocked that the Liberal government has tabled this bill. We call for it to be withdrawn.
Finally, I have just a few quick remarks. We can't have decent and secure retirements if we don't have decent and secure working lives. This government and all Canadian governments should be doing everything they can to improve the work prospects of working Canadians, particularly young Canadians, who are faced with increasingly precarious employment, low-wage employment, and part-time work when they want to be working full time. There are all kinds of things the government can be doing on minimum wages, employment standards, and universal social programs that could make working life better for Canadians, and that, in turn, could make retiring a whole lot easier.