March 30, 2015
A Working Group established as part of the 2014-2019 Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association collective agreement has been working for the past year to take the steps required to establish a Joint Health Science Benefits Trust, which will be a jointly trusteed plan to administer members’ benefits.
Under this plan, to be established by April 1, 2016, members’ benefits will be managed like your pension – by a specialized and balanced group that meets the needs of both sides. It will allow for shared administration and decision-making about participation in and management of your benefits. The agenda will no longer be set by the short-term needs of government negotiators.
A key element of working towards joint trusteeship of the plan is gaining access to all the financial data and other information about the administration of your benefit plan. Assisted by a team of legal, actuarial and benefit specialists, the Working Group is seeking a level of transparency and disclosure that protects the long term interests of HSPBA members. And the Working Group is already seeing the benefit of that access.
When the books were opened up to the union representatives, we learned that surpluses were being generated from both member and employer contributions to the LTD plan. The LTD plan is funded 30 per cent by member contributions, and 70 per cent by employer contributions.
The surpluses, which began to accumulate in 2013, resulted from exceptional investment returns combined with lower than expected rates of disability. These surpluses were accumulating even as government and employer negotiators had a bargaining agenda to reduce benefits for members, claiming the funds were at risk of being underfunded.
The Working Group has achieved an agreement to establish a Member Premiums Trust Account to secure the assets resulting from the portion of surplus member contributions to the LTD fund. These funds will be used exclusively by HSPBA-appointed trustees to protect and improve health and welfare benefits for HSPBA members when the jointly trusteed trust is in place in April 2016.
Had it not been for the creation of the joint trust and the working group, HSPBA would have no knowledge of any surplus entitlement which might be accruing for the benefit of members.
As the Working Group moves into the next phase—concluding a trust agreement that spells out the terms of governing the trust—we are confident that joint trusteeship is already paying off for members by ensuring that they have improved oversight of the health and welfare benefit plans they rely on.
The following are some questions and answers about the joint trusteeship:
Can members expect to see changes in our health and welfare benefits through the new health and welfare trust? It would be good to have additional services, such as dietitians, added to the extended health portion of the plan.
We are far from a point where any changes to the benefit plan could be considered. At present, the Working Group is focused on negotiating the many details for creating the joint trust partnership between the Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association (HSPBA) and the Health Employers Association of BC (HEABC). As mentioned above, the new JHSBT is scheduled to ‘go live’ in April 2016 and the respective parties (HEABC and HSPBA) are working hard to put all the pieces together for the JHSBT launch next year.
Once the JHSBT is up and running in 2016, there will be a long list of issues for trustees to consider and deal with before embarking on any review of plan design features. Unlike the bargaining cycle where incremental changes were bargained over time, the new JHSBT will be able to step back and review plan design issues and trends in their entirety before any redesign of benefits is considered.
Will members have input when the time comes for a review of the benefits?
Yes. Member input will be important as the trustees work through the issues and complexities of plan design options. Members may have different wants and needs and it will be important to find the right balance respecting these different perspectives. For instance, a 25-year old member will likely have different priorities for the plan than a 55-year old member. What is known now is that members place a very high value on their benefits and they don’t want to see the benefits eroded any further. The opportunity to get the best possible value for the dollars spent will be a priority for all trustees. Efficiencies and savings that can be realized will make the dollars go further and give trustees more options for improving the benefits; up to and including expanding the list of permissible health expenses.
When can members expect to hear more?
As we get further into 2015, HSPBA and HEABC will work together to notify members of the steps required as we change over to administration of the JHSBT.
CUPE represents 725 members under the HSPBA represented in CUPE Locals 15, 1978 and 4816. The Health Sciences Association is the lead union in the 17,000-member bargaining association. The other unions in the bargaining group are HEU, BCGEU, and PEA.
For more information, please contact Troy Clifford, CUPE National representative, at 604-291-1940.