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.