THE BLOG

Business Should Stop Derailing a Plan for Secure Pensions

07/06/2015 05:34 EDT | Updated 07/06/2016 05:59 EDT
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The business community is absolutely shameless in trying to kill the proposed Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP).

With an aging population, concerns about retirement insecurity are truly the crisis of our times. Nearly two-thirds of Ontarians don't have access to workplace pensions plans and many of those who do will only have modest benefits to survive on.

Someone needs to remind business owners that one in 10 Ontarians over 65 are living in poverty and if they are retired and single, their likelihood of living in poverty rises to one-in-four.

The most strong, stable and reliable support available for aging Ontarians is a universal, mandatory and public pension plan. This year, the Canada Pension Plan boasted record returns of 18.3 per cent that absolutely blew the volatile RRSP market out of the water. That is the kind of dependable support that should be extended to every retiring Ontarian through a made-in-Ontario pension plan.

However, it can only happen if business owners are willing to do their fair share by matching employees in making a modest 1.9 per cent salary contribution towards a pension plan that will deliver as long as they live.

That simple formula has the power to help lift seniors out of poverty by providing additional retirement benefits to over three million workers in the province.

However, in a bizarre twist to the concerted business lobby against the ORPP, Restaurants Canada -- the voice of 30,000 foodservice businesses -- launched an online campaign on June 10 using the Twitter Hashtag #FixtheORPP to call on the Ontario government to raise the ORPP contribution age from 18 to 25, thereby exempting young workers from paying in to (and cashing in on) the public pension plan.

These are the same restaurant owners who notoriously pay sub-poverty wages and campaign vigorously against any attempt to raise the minimum wage.

Their message to government makes the preposterous assertion that because young people are "starting their careers later and retiring later" they should not be "[forced] to save for retirement before their careers even start." Exactly the opposite is true: if young people are having more difficulty getting their careers off the ground, those fortunate enough to secure a good, stable job with a pension will lose crucial contribution years and will find themselves much further behind than even today's dire circumstances.

Let's take a quick look at the labour market facts facing young workers. Some estimates suggest that more than one in four young people in Canada are underemployed. A full one-third of post-secondary graduates aged 25 to 29 move into low-skilled jobs after graduation, while about half of all youth work in retail and hospitality -- sectors that are notorious for part-time hours, low pay (often minimum wage), a lack of job security and inadequate skills training. Making matters worse, more and more young people are hanging on to these jobs longer as they struggle to find stable, meaningful long-term employment that utilizes their skills and education.

In short, inadequate pensions, cuts to Old Age Security, and a stripped down Employment Insurance system will have a devastating impact on young workers who will have lower wages, a longer working life and less support for themselves and their families. Add to that the record levels of student debt facing post-secondary graduates and it is plain to see that today's youth will have less income available to contribute to private retirement savings accounts as they move through their working lives. The proposed ORPP -- and the Canada Pension Plan -- are the best, if not primary, supports that many of today's young workers will have when they enter their golden years.

Those who benefit from the labour of young workers today, have a responsibility to contribute to their security in the future.

Instead of trying to derail public pensions, the business community and restaurateurs need to get on board a plan that would carry every worker into a better future.

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