The majority of collective agreements in Quebec do not provide measures to encourage experienced workers to stay longer, according to an HEC Montreal study by the Centre for Productivity and Prosperity (CPP). However, this solution could be of great help in reducing the extent of the labour shortage, according to CPP director Robert Gagné.
Based on a sample representing 10 per cent of collective agreements in force in Quebec, the CPP notes that only 12.7 per cent include clauses intended to promote the retention of older workers in employment, according to the report unveilled Wednesday, “Demographic Aging: Solutions for an Ill-Prepared Quebec.”
Among accommodations that could promote retention, Gagné gives as an example adding weeks of vacation, sharing the workweek between employees, and maintaining benefits for older workers who continue to work part-time. “It can be expensive measures, but which costs the most, to give these advantages or to have no one?”
According to the study, in 2019, 48.1 per cent of Quebecers aged 60 to 64 had a job, compared to 54.9 per cent for Ontarians of the same age. For people aged 65 to 69, this rate is 22.1 per cent in Quebec and 27.7 per cent in Ontario.
“In short, Quebecers withdraw from the labour market early,” Gagné said.
Yet if the employment rate of Quebecers in their 60s were to reach that of Ontarians, nearly 69,500 additional workers would be added to the labour market, which represents almost half of the vacant positions, the study found.
Since nearly 44 per cent of workers born in Quebec are covered by a collective agreement, negotiating more favourable conditions for older workers could have a big impact, Gagné said.
Denis Bolduc, secretary-general of the La Fédération des Travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, also believes that ways should be found to retain older workers in the public service.
“It is important to create conditions that will not discourage people who want to continue beyond the age of 65,” Bolduc said.
In addition to flexible working hours, the government should invest in training to enable employees who so desire to perform other tasks. More attention to health and safety practices would also help, according to Bolduc.
“Older people are not 20 years old anymore, the body is not as strong anymore. They are more prone to injury and different arrangements have to be made for these people,” Bolduc said.
Caroline Senneville, president of the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux, would like Quebec to reevaluate the pensions of workers who choose to stay at work after the age of 65.
“It’s part of our requests to make it interesting to stay longer,” Senneville said.
Working conditions also play a role in the decision to retire, she added. “I would tell you that after 35 years, there are a lot of workers who feel worn out.”
Even though we’re talking about labour shortages and retention, there is still ageism in private sector workplaces, Senneville said.
“As soon as you have a little white hair, you get asked, ‘Why you don’t retire?’ It seems strange, people who want to stay. It’s a shame because it is a loss of expertise for the companies.”
As the largest employer, the Quebec government has a role to play, according to Gagné. Yet successive governments over the past 20 years have made “historic” mistakes by encouraging too much attrition in the public service and not admitting enough immigrants, Gagné said.
“The aging of the population is not ‘new’ this week. We knew it 20 years ago. Yet we did not think two minutes to prepare for it,” Gagné said.
Immigration is not a short-term solution, Gagné said. “If we have a labour shortage today, it’s because we didn’t admit enough immigrants 10 or 15 years ago.”
The Legault government is doing “worse” than its predecessors by lowering immigration thresholds, Gagné said. He noted that the bottom of the demographic wave will be reached in 2035 and that we should start now to adjust immigration policies accordingly.