By Linda White
Special to The Sun
New legislation that will end mandatory retirement is being praised for giving older Ontarians the right to continue earning a paycheque if they choose but is also drawing criticism for shortchanging older workers who are financially strapped.
"The hair on my neck stands up when I hear the Minister of Labour say this is about choice for workers," says Wayne Samuelson, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour. "There were other things he could have done. Workers don't have the choice here. Employers have the choice."
CARP, Canada's Association for the Fifty-Plus, disagrees. "We have been fighting for this for a long time," Judy Cutler says. "For those who are critical of this, I ask, 'What is it about the word choice you don't understand?' When 65 was determined as the age of retirement, most people didn't even live that long. Why would we prevent people from doing something they want or love to do?"
The legislation, introduced this month, is expected to be passed this fall and will take effect a year after that. It will change the Ontario Human Rights Code to prohibit age discrimination toward people over age 65. Currently, workplace policies can force workers aged 65 or older to retire.
The single exception under the new bill is where mandatory retirement could be justified on "bona fide occupational requirement" grounds. Due to the nature of some jobs, an employment requirement or qualification may be deemed necessary for the performance of essential job duties.
Some key elements of the legislation:
Union and employers will still be able to negotiate voluntary retirement packages.
Ending mandatory retirement will not impact pension benefits already earned. Employees can continue membership in pension plans and accrue benefits past age 65 subject to service or contribution caps.
The legislation will not affect eligibility to receive Canada Pension Plan (CPP) at age 65.
Employers are not required to provide benefits to employees aged 65 and over, who will continue to be eligible for government benefits such as the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan.
Employers wishing to dismiss an employee aged 65 or older would have to give that employee termination notice or pay-in-lieu unless their retirement policy could be justified on 'bona fide occupational requirement' grounds.
Injured workers aged 63 or older at the time of injury would continue to be able to receive loss of earning benefits for up to two years. Those injured at a younger age would no longer receive loss of earning benefits at age 65.
| JUDY CUTLER
CARP's co-director of Government & Media relations
"I acknowledge there are some people who are 65 or 70 and look forward to going to work," Samuelson says. "For most people, the decision on whether or not to retire is based on finances and if they have enough money to enjoy a decent living. The government has sidestepped the issue of pension."
Ontario joins Manitoba, Alberta, Quebec, the Yukon, the United States, Australia and New Zealand in ending mandatory retirement.
According to Statistics Canada, the number of Canadians aged 65 and over is expected to double from nearly four million in 2000 to almost eight million in 2028.
In 2011, 11.8% of the Canadian population aged 65 to 69 was employed.
While there is a trend toward early retirement, more than 20% of workers aged 45 and older plan to retire after age 65 or not at all.
-- Ministry of Labour
Some worry the legislation will harm employment prospects for younger workers, but not all share that concern. "I truly do believe our job market is changing," says Jesse Greener, Ontario Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. "It's increasingly an information-based economy. As long as everyone has an opportunity to get a college or university education, we will have a dynamic and innovative workforce where people will be able to find or create a place for themselves."
CARP represents 400,000 members across the country -- 250,000 of those are in Ontario. It says it's important the government keeps its promise to end mandatory retirement without undermining early retirement rights or existing benefit and pension plans. "Also, because this won't be implemented for another year and a half, there are seniors who will fall through the cracks. I would like to see some retroactivity," Cutler says.
In Ontario, about 4,000 people are expected to take advantage of the change each year. "People are still looking forward to retiring at 65 or earlier," Cutler says. "Not everyone is going to say, 'Goody, we get to work longer!' But we get a lot of calls from people who are upset about forced retirement. If you live to 85, that's a long time if you want to work."
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