OTTAWA, Oct. 21 /CNW Telbec/ - Over 2000 pensioners, terminated and disabled employees of Nortel Networks rallied in protest on Parliament Hill today with demands for 'Justice' and 'Action Now' on their pensions, severance and disability benefits. Over 2000 more supporters from across Ontario and Quebec came by the busloads to voice their own concerns for lack of pension security in Canada. Many had also been at the demonstration at Queen's Park two weeks earlier, which the CAW helped organize on behalf of their Nortel workers.
With more than 2000 companies under bankruptcy protection across the country right now, protesters were demanding change to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in order to protect pensioners, terminated, and disabled employees who must now stand in line with bondholders and suppliers who can be insured against their risks.
In a show of support for the Nortel people and other union and non-union workers on the Hill, Michael Ignatieff, Leader, Liberal Party, Gilles Duceppe, Leader Bloc Quebecois and Jack Layton, Leader NDP all addressed the crowd. They expressed the need for pension reform to ensure that seniors and those who have worked all their lives can enjoy a decent standard of living in retirement and supported the message of other speakers: employee pensions under outdated and unfair legislation that enables banks, bondholders and other creditors to be paid back before retirees during a bankruptcy must stop. The Conservative Party declined the invitation to speak.
Don Sproule, President of Nortel Retirees and former employees Protection Canada (NRPC) started with a rousing address urging both the federal and provincial governments to get to the serious business of remedying the wrongs in the current system. "There is theft and betrayal going on here. We are being discriminated against, defrauded out of what is owed and will be left begging." Both the federal government and the Government of Ontario have been extremely quiet on what they will do to assist the Nortel people to access the assets from the wind-up of Nortel Networks.
Bernard Neuschwander, NRPC President Quebec spoke about the tremendous support received from the Quebec Government. It only took minutes for Sam Hamad, Minister Employment to extend the application of Bill 1 to cover pension plans wound up under Company Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA). "Now Quebec pensioners will have the option to have their pension plan managed by the Quebec pension agency (RRQ) for a period of five years following wind up," explained Mr. Neuschwander. The NRPC urges changes to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA) to give preferred status to employees before Nortel emerges from the CCAA.
In her address, Sue Kennedy, representative for Nortel employees on LTD, reaffirmed the need to amend the BIA for the sake of the over 400 people who face the loss of their wage replacement and medical benefits. " We are too sick to work, too late for other disability insurance and not covered by any federal or provincial legislation across Canada. The BIA amendment is our only hope of living above the poverty line."
Past attempts to introduce a priority for employees were strongly opposed by credit grantors and businesses although there is no evidence to support claims that preferred status will materially raise the cost of credit. Diane Urquhart, an independent financial analyst who has been assisting the NRPC, strongly argued, "The Nortel case is a precedent for a line up of Canadian companies who choose to sell their businesses under bankruptcy protection. This way they can trigger credit default swap cash settlements and walk away from any moral or ethical responsibility to pay employee pensions, severance and disability benefits."
Dave Coles, President of the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union, whose office and staff assisted in the media and advertising for this event, told the crowd, "Nortel workers do not stand alone. Pension insecurity is a living nightmare for tens of thousands of Canadians with private pension plans that are facing immediate disaster." Cheers from the workers from Abitibi-Bowater and CanWest Communications joined the boisterous applause from many others on the Hill.
Representing workers from all walks of life, Ken Georgetti President Canadian Labour Congress reinforced the need for a strong government strategy when he said "The private pension system in Canada is in deep trouble. When companies go into bankruptcy, pensioners, such as those at Nortel, are discovering that what they thought was guaranteed is not. We need immediate and effective legislation to improve pension security."
Mary Jane McKinnon, a CAW member from Belleville and Nortel pensioner told the media at the rally, "We cannot continue to see the erosion of our pensions as one company after the other is taken over by foreign interests and then closes out the Canadian operations. Our bankruptcy laws make it too convenient for them."
After the rally, many people attended Question Period where several were recognized by their MPs. The NRPC "Change the BIA Now!" petition was presented by Ruby Dhalla MP Brampton-Springdale, David McGuinty MP Ottawa South, Rob Oliphant MP Don Valley West and Judy Sgro MP York-West. Further meetings were held by members of the NRPC and several MPS and Senators to further discuss the need for legislative change now.
This evening, the NRPC have been invited to address the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance to ensure that the Senate committee members are conversant with the issues.
Nortel people are not asking for a government bailout but rather are asking for the Federal Government to use its lawmaking mandate to place the employment related claims at preferred status over the unsecured creditors. Some of the Nortel vulture bond owners may scream wolf, but it is the Federal Government's right to set public policy. The loudest outcries are apt to come from the U.S. and U.K. governments and what an opportunity this would be for the Canadian governments to stand up for its citizens.
For further information: Don Sproule, NRPC President, (613) 266-9336, firstname.lastname@example.org
; Francois Meunier, NRPC Chair Ottawa, (613) 612-3231, email@example.com
; Bernard Neuschwander, NRPC Chair Quebec, (514) 769-7593, firstname.lastname@example.org
; Sue Kennedy, Long Term Disabled Rep., (613) 620-1708, email@example.com
; Diane Urquhart, Independent Financial Analyst, (416) 595-4832, firstname.lastname@example.org
; Anne Clark-Stewart, NRPC Media Relations, (613) 612-8032, email@example.com
; Michelle Walsh, CEP Communications, (613) 230-5800 x222, firstname.lastname@example.org
; for Regional Interviews Please contact the following: Earl Sills, NRPC Chair Halifax and Atlantic Canada, (902) 478-5822 (cell), (902) 443-3989 (home), email@example.com
; Ken Lyons, NRPC Spokesperson Quebec, (514) 214-6458 (cell), (514) 694-6458 (home), firstname.lastname@example.org
; Barrie Gunhouse, NRPC Chair Kingston, (613) 549-8138 (home), email@example.com
; Darwin Hoskin, NRPC Chair Belleville, (613) 967-0536 (home), firstname.lastname@example.org
; Mike Moorcroft, NPRC Chair Toronto, (905) 823-8924 (home), email@example.com
; Chuck McEwan, NRPC Chair London, (519) 681-2407 (home), firstname.lastname@example.org
; Ken Shaw, NRPC Calgary and Western Canada, (403) 948-7488, email@example.com