NUPGE calls on political parties to recognize wildland firefighters

Larry Brown urges equal treatment for wildland firefighters regarding the maximum annual pension accrual rate.

Ottawa (29 Aug. 2019) — The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has urged the leaders of Canada's 4 largest political parties to change Canada’s income tax regulations to recognize wildland firefighters.

Expand definition of public safety occupations to address inequality of pension accrual rates

On August 28, Larry Brown, NUPGE’s President, wrote separate letters to Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh, and Elizabeth May, calling for amendments to the provisions in the Income Tax Regulations covering the pension accrual rate for wildland firefighters.

The Income Tax Regulations provide that under a defined benefit RPP, the maximum annual pension accrual rate applicable to any particular range of earnings cannot exceed 2 per cent. An exemption is given for those employed in certain public safety occupations for whom this maximum is 2.33 per cent.

Defined benefit RPP favours some public safety occupations, excludes others

In the regulations, the definition of public safety officer refers to the occupations of firefighter, police officer, corrections officer, air traffic controller, commercial airline pilot, and paramedic. The problem with this definition is that it does not recognize those who work under similar conditions in public safety and who face many of the same risks, such as probation officers, sheriffs, highway safety officers, conservation officers, and wildland firefighters. In a previous letter addressed to Finance Minister Bill Morneau on January 15, 2019, Brown urged the Minister to expand the definition of public safety occupations to include other occupations not considered public safety officers under the pension tax rules, namely probation officers, sheriffs, highway safety officers, and conservation officers. In these latest letters to the party leaders, Brown focused on wildland firefighters and asked party leaders to make a commitment to recognize them.

Brown calls on party leaders to treat all firefighters equally

He wrote: “Wildland firefighters share many of the same occupational risks and diseases as urban firefighters. And they demonstrate an outstanding contribution to Canadian society and public safety during wildfire season. However, wildland firefighters are not covered by the existing definition of public safety occupation.”

Brown called on the leaders of the major parties "to make a commitment to recognize those women and men who work under similar conditions as urban firefighters but are not listed in the official definition as public safety officers." He called on them "to advocate to extend the same pension tax rules to this other public safety occupation, thus ensuring that all public safety officers are treated equally."

The federal parties should recognize the work of all public safety officers

Brown wrote that this is fundamentally a question of equal recognition and respect: addressing this inequality in the application of the maximum pension accrual rate, would be "recognizing the work these people do, the inherent risks of these occupations, and the long-term health toll that serving our country in this way entails. Workplace stress and hazards with these occupations have all too often meant that these workers are unable to enjoy a full and long retirement.”

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE