Sears workers’ pensions sacrificed to corporate welfare

Commentary by Rosaire L’Italien in The Daily Gleaner

Canadians can count on the NDP to keep fighting for workers, pensions and a fairer Canada that works for everyone, not just the big corporations and the wealthiest.

The NDP is calling on the Liberal government to protect pensions and health-care benefits of Sears Canada employees and retirees. Sears Canada will pay $7.6 million in bonuses to 43 executives while 2,900 employees are laid off without severance.

Like other large multinational corporations, Sears is permitted under Canada’s bankruptcy laws to pay big bonuses to their executives instead of being forced to pay severance of the workers the company has laid-off.

The pensions earned by workers from Sears Canada are deferred wages, plain and simple. These pensions aren’t Sears money, they are the workers’ money. This money was taken off of the workers paycheques to go towards their pensions. Some people have worked there 20 or 30 or more years and have paid into their pensions all along.

Diverting, withholding or seizing those funds should be illegal. The current system under the Liberals is broken. The Liberal government needs to stand up for Canadian retirees and stop the organized theft of workers’ pensions.

Sears Canada, like other large multinational corporations, is using Canada’s inadequate bankruptcy laws to take money meant for workers’ pensions and divert it to pay off their secure creditors, who in many cases, are often their parent companies.

The Liberals must lead by example and prioritize protecting workers’ pension plans. Workers fulfilled their obligation regarding paying into their pension; companies such as Sears Canada must do the same.

This needs to be about fairness for workers. We will continue to fight for a Canada that works for everyone, and we will make sure corporations and multinationals can’t steal the pensions their workers and retirees have earned.

The NDP believes that a contract is a contract is a contract. We owe our retirees better than promising a plan for their retirement then reducing it without their input and consent. The NDP’s policy has always been that workers’ pensions, back salary and overtime should be paid before their bosses’ bonuses, dividends and shareholders. It’s simply the right thing to do.

The Liberals and Progressive Conservatives have left New Brunswick with one of the highest unemployment rates in Canada. Between 2005 and 2011 the Liberals, and then the Tories, gave $150 million of your money to companies that no longer exist.

Corporate welfare chokes off economic growth and discourages investors. They love talking about ‘creating jobs’ but too often that means bribing outside companies with your tax dollars. Too often those jobs aren’t sustainable and those companies leave after a few years, or demand more and more in government subsidies. New Brunswick deserves better.

This Sears deal that the Gallant Liberals offered was more of the same. If we add up the payroll rebates, the non-refundable loans and the additional grants from the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour (money that was earmarked to help recent graduates find jobs in their fields) that equals $11,789,000 in subsidies to Sears from the New Brunswick government. That equals $22,243 per job.

The NDP will end corporate handouts. They don’t work. They cost us money we don’t have, money that has to come from programs we need – such as health care and education.

When entrepreneurs and small-business owners can’t get a fair start because they don’t have the right political connections, it hurts everyone. The NDP will invest in New Brunswick’s entrepreneurs, small businesses and municipalities.

The NDP will create jobs by introducing a New Jobs Tax Credit to reward companies that create new jobs. This tax credit will be available to any employer who creates a new job: no politics, no complicated bureaucracy.

The New Jobs Tax Credit will work. Six of the 10 U.S. states with the lowest unemployment rates used a jobs tax credit to jump-start their economies. New Brunswick economists predict that the NDP New Jobs Tax Credit will create between 15,000 and 20,000 jobs within four years.

We will build on our resource economy, but we will also look to tourism, the arts, and non-profits to create new economic opportunities that have long been ignored. The NDP will create jobs and get the economy back on the right track.

Rosaire L’Italien is the leader of the provincial New Democratic Party.