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Irish Workers Slam Great-West Lifeco for Pension Scheme Closure

TORONTO – Britain and Ireland’s largest labour union, Unite, today slammed Great-West Lifeco for what it termed “platinum pensions for Canadian executives, poverty pensions for Irish workers.”

Unite represents close to 1,000 workers in Great-West Lifeco subsidiary Irish Life, and is currently in dispute with the company over its unilateral decision to close the staff defined-benefit pension scheme without the union’s agreement. 

In a statement issued to coincide with Great-West Lifeco’s Annual and Special Meeting of Shareholders in Toronto, Unite said its members were shocked to learn that Great-West Lifeco CEO Paul Mahon and Irish Life Chairman Arshil Jamal not only enjoy rich defined-benefit pensions, but also supplemental plans providing benefits in excess of the statutory limits.

Members of the United Steelworkers (USW), North America’s largest industrial union, held a protest outside the Great-West Lifeco shareholders’ meeting today to highlight the group’s treatment of Irish workers. United Steelworkers came together with Unite in 2008 to form the global union Workers Uniting.

“Great-West Lifeco executives apparently believe they are entitled to extravagant pensions, while their employees should not be able to retire with the dignity of a defined-benefit pension plan – even when that plan has a surplus of hundreds of millions of dollars,” USW National Director Ken Neumann.

“This is an unacceptable display of corporate greed. Such a unilateral attack on the retirement security of workers should be universally condemned, including by Great-West Lifeco shareholders,” Neumann said.

“Great-West Lifeco acquired Irish Life – Ireland’s largest pension provider – in 2013 and has since been engaged in a concerted effort to drive down our members’ terms and conditions,” said Richie Browne, Unite’s Regional Coordinating Officer.

“Their unilateral decision to close the staff defined-benefit pension scheme comes at a time when the scheme’s surplus is around €240 million (approximately Can$371 million), with assets of around €1.1 billion (approx. Can$1.7 billion),” Brown said. 

“Closure of the defined-benefit scheme would result in workers losing up to 35% of their anticipated retirement income, leaving many facing pension poverty. This is in stark contrast to the platinum pension schemes enjoyed by Great-West Lifeco CEO Paul Mahon and Irish Life Chairman Arshil Jamal.

“The decision to close Irish Life’s staff defined-benefit scheme has already caused reputational damage for Ireland’s largest pension provider and that will be compounded by the news that Great-West Lifeco’s Canadian executives can look forward to platinum pensions while workers at their Irish subsidiary are facing poverty pensions.

“Workers in Canada and Ireland are calling on Great-West Lifeco to instruct their subsidiary, Irish Life, to reverse its unilateral decision to close the staff defined-benefit pension scheme on June 30 and engage in meaningful, without prejudice, talks with the workers’ union, Unite,” Browne concluded.

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For further information:

Mark Rowlinson, Assistant to the National Director, United Steelworkers, 416-544-5952, mrowlinson@usw.ca
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-544-5966, 416-434-2221, bgallagher@usw.ca

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