Presented by Ken Georgetti on Saturday, 9 June 2012
(Check against delivery)
Sisters and Brothers, I am pleased to bring you greetings on behalf of the 3.3 million workers who are members of the Canadian Labour Congress.
It’s a pleasure to be here in Nova Scotia – and to be in a province with a social democratic government!
Premier Darrell Dexter has done a fantastic job – creating good, family-supporting jobs and focusing on the real economy – not an abstract concept but one where the hard work of Nova Scotians helps build a stronger province.
I can only hope that federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair can build on your success here and translate that into a national NDP government in the next election!
Because coming from our national capital, I can tell you that listening, fairness, balance and reasonableness are in very, very short supply!
You can see the problem very quickly by looking at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s approach to two issues of extreme importance to working people – Employment Insurance and retirement security.
The Conservative government’s recent changes to Employment Insurance demonstrate that their priority is not protecting or creating jobs but punishing those unfortunate enough to be unemployed.
These EI cuts will hurt those who are frequently unemployed or seasonally unemployed in two ways:
They will be bullied into taking 10 to 20 per cent hourly wage cuts for similar work – and accept a 30 per cent cut for any job offered to them if they continue to be seasonally unemployed.
Even those who have been working steadily will be forced to take a similar job with a 20 per cent wage cut.
The Conservatives are ignoring the fact that most workers want full time jobs – they only need EI when the economy isn’t producing enough employment.
And Prime Minister Harper won’t admit his government just isn’t creating jobs.
Statistics Canada says there were 5.8 unemployed workers for every reported job vacancy in Canada for the 3 months ending in February 2012.
This number rises to an average of about 10 unemployed workers for every open job slot in Atlantic Canada.
So how on earth will these changes help put people back to work?
The only likely result is that employers will reduce wages because of more intense competition for fewer low paying jobs.
But workers with less income spend less on consumer goods and services, further hurting Canada’s fragile economy.
And forcing workers to take the first available job is not good labour market policy, since periods of job search allow for a better fit between unemployed workers and job vacancies.
It’s also clear that if unemployed workers are cut off from EI, they will be forced onto social assistance.
That means the federal government will be offloading the cost of unemployment onto Nova Scotia and the other provinces.
But what’s worst of all is that this Conservative government perversely believes unemployed workers are totally responsible for their own fate.
Yet it is, after all, employers who lay off workers – not workers who lay themselves off – but this clear fact appears to mystify Conservatives.
What is even clearer is that these EI changes are unfair, they are arbitrary, they are being brought in without public consultation and they are fundamentally wrong.
Contrast how workers are treated by this government versus big business.
Workers are punished for not having jobs – which is beyond their control – and that financial penalty is supposed to force them to find work in a high-unemployment economy.
But big business is rewarded with huge and ongoing corporate tax cuts – they get incentives from government without any requirement to create jobs and investment.
And these incentives are costing you and I enormous amounts of money.
The cumulative corporate tax cuts that Mr. Harper has introduced since taking office in 2006 will cost the government $13 billion dollars in lost revenue this year!
And the way the Conservatives funnel that money to big business is by cutting our needed public services and by slashing support for the unemployed.
It’s a shameful way to run our great country.
You know, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recently said in connection to the EI changes that "there is no bad job".
Well, let me correct the Minister – there is definitely at least one bad job in Canada....and he and his government are doing it right now!
Let’s be clear – the Canadian Labour Congress believes in working with business and government to help create jobs – and reduce unemployment.
We will cooperate with governments of any political party who are willing to listen to workers’ concerns and consider our proposals for positive changes.
We don’t expect to win every argument, we don’t anticipate agreement on every issue, but we do strongly believe that organized labour has not only an important voice in our economy but an enormous stake in the results of government action.
And that’s why I’m so pleased to be here today – because Darrell Dexter and the Nova Scotia NDP government do sit down and listen to labour.
I am particularly happy to tell you that Premier Dexter has been a strong supporter of the CLC’s major campaign to guarantee retirement security for all Canadians – by expanding the Canada Pension Plan.
Retirement with dignity and security is one of the most important social policy questions of our time.
And it will be our responsibility to win retirement security for future generations, just as previous generations fought for our Medicare, for our employment insurance and for our right to join a union.
It’s no accident that Medicare was pioneered by the CCF government of Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan.
And thanks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, we have a very simple choice to make on retirement security – a stark choice – to either go forward to a more progressive and enhanced CPP – or to go backwards.
Mr. Harper’s option is clear – work till you are 67 – or perhaps even work until you drop dead in your job.
And Mr. Harper also wants us to put all our faith into private sector solutions.
That means investing our hard-earned money into Registered Retirement Savings Plans and into his new Pooled Registered Pension Plans.
In other words, we are expected to put our golden years in the hands of in the stock market…and the big banks.
And put our future in the hands of mutual fund companies that have the dubious distinction of charging the world’s highest management fees.
That’s what I would call very risky business.
Fortunately, the Canadian Labour Congress has given our country another option – and a much better strategy that will work for everyone.
Here’s what we say:
Improve the Canada Pension Plan over the next few years to double the retirement benefits for all Canadians.
Make the CPP work the way it should – so that no Canadian lives in fear – fear of what should be their golden years.
But Mr. Harper would have you believe the choice is either his way…or no way.
I believe the choice is between the wrong way…and the right way.
Consider this: in 2009, 9.6 million employees – that’s 61.5 per cent of all paid workers in Canada – had no workplace pension plan coverage at all.
If you factor in the self-employed, there were 12.4 million Canadians in the labour force with no pension plan coverage – zero, nada, nothing.
That helps explain why we currently have 1.6 million seniors living below the poverty line – with incomes of less than $16,000.
What a deplorable statistic.
The Conservatives have only offered yet another private sector solution to increase retirement income – their Pooled Registered Pension Plans or PRPPs.
But PRPPs are simply a variation of the failed concept of Registered Retirement Savings Plans, which less than a third of Canadians participate in.
Meanwhile, increasing the Old Age Security threshold age to 67 is an economic disaster in the making for provinces like Nova Scotia.
The federal government will download the cost of supporting seniors – who will need an additional 2 years of provincial social assistance – before qualifying for OAS at the age of 67.
This will cost the provinces an estimated half a billion dollars each year.
Briefly, the Canadian Labour Congress plan is the positive alternative.
That’s why organizations from the Canadian Association of Retired Persons to the Canadian Federation of Students to the Union of Canadian Municipalities are also calling for an expanded CPP.
An Ipsos-Reid poll earlier this year showed 74 per cent of Canadians oppose raising the OAS eligibility age to 67, while an Environics poll found that 76 per cent of Canadians support increasing CPP benefits.
The reasons are obvious.
If we phase in a small premium increase over 7 years, it would result in a doubling of maximum benefits – to $1,973 a month.
That would raise the basic pension floor for all workers from a poverty level of $12,000 a year to a far more liveable $24,000.
What’s more, the Canada Pension Plan is universal, it’s portable – it goes with you, not your job – and it covers 93% of workers.
The CPP is also safe, secure, indexed to inflation and its management costs are lower than the exorbitant rates charged by private financial institutions.
It not only meets the needs of workers who don’t have a pension plan or RRSPs but it also provides a better retirement base for those with pensions.
If the CLC’s plan were fully implemented, over just one generation it would eliminate the need for nearly $30 billion taxpayer dollars to support the Guaranteed Income Supplement.
So – given that this all makes good common sense, guess what?
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty – who initially supported an expanded CPP – changed his mind.
The big banks got to the Finance Minister and some provinces – just when we were close to a breakthrough.
But their strong opposition only means one thing – we are on the right track!
Fortunately, we have another chance soon to advance our cause.
Your new Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald will be meeting other provincial ministers soon and we understand they will be looking at research about what would constitute a “modest” increase in the Canada Pension Plan.
That means we urgently need to keep up the pressure on the federal government.
Please talk to your elected your federal MPs from all parties and let them know we need to improve the Canada Pension Plan and to change retirement security for the better forever!
We didn’t win Medicare without a fight and we can’t get a better CPP without one either.
Remember – we have a big job to do before we can retire!
Thank you and have a great convention!