Quebec Workers Defend Their Rights

Municipal Workers and Retirees' Constitutional Challenge to Anti-Worker Pension Act

Montreal municipal workers demonstrate in defence of their pensions, April 23, 2014. (SCFP)

Dozens of unions representing municipal workers in Quebec are pursuing a constitutional challenge to Bill 15, An Act to foster the financial health and sustainability of municipal defined benefit pension plans, which the Quebec government adopted in December 2014. The unions involved represent tens of thousands of municipal employees across Quebec, blue collar, white collar, fire fighters and police.

According to the unions, the pension legislation, among other things, violates the right to collective bargaining. They say Article 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects workers' freedom of association, which is required if the right to collective bargaining is to have any meaning in practice.

In a press release dated June 21, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (Quebec) reports that after 85 days of hearings before the Quebec Superior Court, all the evidence provided by both parties has now been entered. The next step is the presentation of arguments of both parties, which is expected to begin in August and last two weeks.

The Quebec government and mayors of major cities such as Montreal and Quebec City presented the Act in 2014, as a necessary step to foster the sustainability of municipal defined benefit pension plans and to ensure "intergenerational equity." They used figures alleging huge deficits in certain municipal pension plans, which the workers and their unions challenged as being inaccurate and fraudulent. In the case of Montreal, the figures did not take into account the fact that the alleged deficits were based on the City of Montreal for years not putting the money it was legally bound to put into the plans.

A main feature of Bill 15 is to remove from collective bargaining issues related to municipal employee pensions and instead make them a matter of government dictate. The Act decreed 50-50 employer/employee contribution rates for upcoming pensions and banned any automatic indexing. The act broke existing collective agreements and required workers and retirees to pay 50 per cent of any predicted actuarial deficits, which were the responsibility of the municipalities according to past collective agreements.

In the case of retirees, the bill allowed municipalities to cancel indexing of their pensions and to use that money to pay off any deficits. It is estimated that Montreal municipal retirees have been deprived of millions of dollars in pensions since the City of Montreal suspended indexation on retirement plans in 2016. To damage public opinion opposing this attack on pensioners and their rights, the monopoly media launched slanderous propaganda that municipal retirees were well off and abusing the budget of the city. The truth is far from what the propaganda alleged with most retirees living on $30,000 or even $20,000 a year, depending on when they retired. Workers reject with contempt that a decree of the state can force retirees into poverty and deprive them of their contracted rights.

The Act has forced retrogressive restructuring of some 216 different defined benefit pension plans in 1,100 municipalities across Quebec. Municipal workers now pay considerably more in contributions to the pension plans, amounting to an actual significant reduction in their wages during their working life in addition to the amounts they had to pay for past deficits, which were not their responsibility.

Through their words and deeds the municipal authorities in Montreal and Quebec acknowledge that this state-organized theft of pensions and lowering of the living standards of city workers was initiated so they could divert more of the wealth produced by municipal workers and at their disposal into pay-the-rich schemes for global companies. They seek to make their cities a hub for investment by global supranational private interests at the expense of active and retired workers' well-being and rights.

Municipal workers and their allies waged a protracted struggle in an effort to prevent the government from passing Bill 15, organizing demonstrations and local strikes. A general strike of Montreal white collar workers in 2014 had as its central theme opposition to the bill and defence of pensions and the right to collective bargaining.

Since Bill 15 was passed, municipal workers have tried to offset some of its negative impacts in their negotiations for new collective agreements. An example is the case of the Montreal Transit Corporation maintenance workers who negotiated and organized actions over the course of 23 months in defence of their rights and were able to obtain in 2019 a premium from the employer to offset the increase in contributions they have to make to fund their pension plans.

Workers have not reconciled with the Quebec government's abuse of state power. The constitutional challenge is part of the fight to have Bill 15 withdrawn. Municipal workers, retirees and their allies demand the withdrawal of the act and redress for the damage already inflicted. Workers have the right to negotiate collectively their terms of employment, which include a say on their standard of living while working and in retirement.

This article was published in

Number 24 - June 27, 2019

Article Link:
Quebec Workers Defend Their Rights: Municipal Workers and Retirees' Constitutional Challenge to Anti-Worker Pension Act


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