To retire or not to retire?

The recent debates over retirement age in Canada and France may be of little concern to the majority of Gauntlet readers, who are likely more concerned with finishing the next of five research essays or preparing for their upcoming exams, yet the question is centred on the issue of lifestyle: do you work to live or live to work?

Earlier this year, French president Nicolas Sarkozy received major criticism after announcing an overhaul of the government pension system, including a very controversial proposal to raise the minimum retirement age, with full pension, from 60 to 62 years old. Closer to home, Air Canada pilots George Vilven and Neil Kelly fought against the Air Canada Pilots Association for forcing them to retire at 60 years old. One group is fighting to work while the other is fighting not to — who is right?

The French government, along with other European Union countries, argued that raising the minimum retirement age by a few years ensures that future generations will benefit from the pension system without further straining fragile economies. Yet Sarkozy’s proposals, which have since been implemented, sparked mass riots during the summer with some estimates claiming hundreds of thousands of unionists and students left their workplaces or schools to show their dissatisfaction. The riots were more than a few people parading in the streets — three thousand of the twelve thousand gas stations in France were dry and it cost the nation about $160 million CAD per day in lost work hours and stalled production. It appears that the French do not want to work past 60.

In contrast, the Air Canada pilots appealed to the Human Rights Commission, arguing that the ACPA policy was contrary to Section 15 (1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act concerning occupational requirements and employer policies. Like good Canadians, Vilven and Kelly politely and patiently (resolution took several years) appealed to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal because they wanted to work longer and were mentally and physically capable of doing so.

This issue epitomizes the North American and French stereotypes: live to work versus work to live. It is easy to simplify both groups into general statements, good and bad. North Americans can be labelled as workaholics who ignore their families or a society of people who take pleasure from working. France can be seen either as a nation that views a job as simply the means to achieve a certain type of lifestyle, or just lazy. All four categorizations can be justified by someone or some group depending on how they view work and its role in their life. The overriding question is about lifestyle.

I have wrestled with the issue for almost two weeks now and cannot firmly take a side. I have been the Albertan workaholic, serving evenings and weekends while working full-time in an office, walking away satisfied that I worked hard to earn a lot of money. And I have also worked in Quebec for about 25 hours a week, spending the remainder of my time poolside with friends reading fiction and non-fiction, consuming excessive amounts of coffee, cheese and bread, while enjoying the beauty and history of Quebec. Both jobs were fulfilling in very different ways and each encompassed a lifestyle choice that the French and the Air Canada pilots were fighting for.

Final decision? Summers in Quebec, winters in Calgary — the best of both worlds.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.