Heaphy gives update on retirement package

by Daniel McCabe

By now just about everyone eligible for McGill's Voluntary Workforce Reduction Plan has received a letter detailing what the early retirement offer could mean for them. Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Phyllis Heaphy addressed a well attended Management Forum session Monday to answer questions from staff about the offer, which is targeted at most McGill employees over the age of 55.

Heaphy emphasized that self-financing units will have the final say over their employees' eligibility for the plan, because those units would be responsible for funding their staff's departures. "We've spoken to all the directors of those units, though, and I suspect the great majority of people (over 55) working for them will be eligible for the plan."

Anyone who does opt for the plan will have to take any vacation time owed to her before she leaves the University, said Heaphy. Staff who accept the plan must exit McGill by July 31.

Given the $14 million cut in Quebec funding that McGill faces next year, "we would be crazy to make this plan difficult to approve for staff who are interested in accepting it," Heaphy declared.

"Department heads can make a case if there is absolutely no way they can replace a position. If a unit will shut down because all the experienced people who can run it all want to leave--that won't be possible.

"But the big picture is we need the savings (that would result from retirements). There isn't much a department can do to keep someone who wants to accept this plan."

Heaphy said the administration would frown on departments who rehired staff after they left with an early retirement package. "If a professor comes back to teach a specific course for a certain period of time, that's all right." Short-term contracts might be acceptable, "but you can't cut a deal with someone before he goes--that's a definite no-no." Heaphy added that staff with early retirement packages could also face stiff tax penalties if they came back to McGill to do more work.

In response to questions, Heaphy said that staff on short term disability or whose positions are about to be abolished are eligible for the plan.

Heaphy explained that McGill would be temporarily incurring more debt in order to finance the Work Force Reduction Plan. As staff depart and their salaries are no longer paid, the money saved will be used initially to pay off that debt. Departments won't be able to factor in the early retirements as they struggle to cut their own costs--at least not at first. "Boy, have we had people kicking us over that," said Heaphy.

She acknowledged that the early retirement offer was proving to be most popular with non-academic staff. "The academics have been uniformly cool."

Heaphy admitted that the administration has been caught off guard by the reaction to its proposed Permanently Reduced Workload Plan. "Frankly that was almost an afterthought--we were concentrating on the Work Force Reduction Plan. But judging from the incredible number of phone calls we've received, we hit the mother lode." She said that the University will firm up the details for that scheme and offer the plan to employees in the fall.