Canada: Régime De Retraite Et Avantages Sociaux : Un Employeur Peut-il Implicitement Renoncer À Son Droit De Les Modifier?

Last Updated: July 13 2016
Article by Marie Garel

Most Read Contributor in Canada, November 2017

C'est à cette question que la Cour supérieure a répondu le 13 juin 2016 dans le cadre d'un jugement condamnant IBM à verser plus de 23 millions de dollars à 451 travailleurs et retraités de l'usine de Bromont pour avoir modifié unilatéralement une clause de leur régime de retraite.

Faits en l'espèce:

IBM exploite à Bromont une usine où Suvrent des centaines d'employés non syndiqués.

À l'époque, IBM offrait un régime de retraite à prestations déterminées prévoyant une prestation de raccordement afin d'encourager la retraite anticipée . Cette prestation  permettait aux travailleurs de toucher environ 7000$ par année entre le moment de leur retraite anticipée et l'âge de 65 ans.

En 1994, dans un contexte économique difficile, IBM a annoncé le remplacement du régime de retraite à prestations déterminées par un régime de retraite à cotisations déterminées. Les employés existants de la compagnie pouvaient cependant choisir de demeurer au sein du régime à prestations déterminées auquel était rattachée la prestation de raccordement précédemment mentionnée. IBM offrait à ses employés une majoration de 40% des contributions accumulées au nom de chacun s'ils acceptaient un tel transfert. Les employés ont opté pour le régime existant préférant bénéficier éventuellement de la prestation de raccordement dans le cas d'une retraite anticipée.

Une dizaine d'années plus tard, soit en janvier 2006, IBM a fait savoir à ses employés qu'elle mettait fin aux prestations de raccordement pour les employés prenant leur retraite après le 31 décembre 2007.La compagnie mettait alors aussi fin à la couverture pour soins de santé après l'âge de 65 ans.

En décembre 2008, Jean Samoisette, un ancien employé d'IBM, a initié un recours collectif contre IBM. Au moment de cette modification, M. Samoisette n'était pas encore admissible à la prestation de raccordement. Il avait droit à une retraite anticipée en 2008. Dans son cas, cette prime totalisait environ 110 000$.

IBM a soutenu n'avoir jamais garanti que le régime de pension ne serait pas modifié.

Décision:

Dans son jugement, l'honorable François P. Duprat conclut qu'IBM ne peut pas revenir sur une représentation faite à ses employés à l'effet de leur verser une prestation de raccordement lors d'une retraite anticipée alors qu'ils sont sur le point d'y avoir droit.

La Cour considère que les avantages conférés aux employés d'IBM, soit le régime de pension, la prestation de raccordement et les avantages aux retraités font partie de la rémunération et forment des composantes du contrat de travail entre l'employé et IBM.

Le juge reconnaît que ces avantages peuvent être modifiés de façon unilatérale et qu'un employeur peut préserver sa capacité de le faire. D'ailleurs, pour ce qui est de la couverture pour soins de santé après l'âge de 65 ans, le juge conclut qu'IBM a conservé ce droit.

En effet, la preuve n'a pas permis, aux yeux de la Cour, de conclure que la compagnie avait fait quelconque représentation à l'effet qu'il n'y aurait pas de modification du régime. La Cour s'est appuyée sur certains aspects économiques dont, entre autres, la recherche par IBM d'un meilleur rendement pour ses actionnaires et son désir de contrôler les coûts grandissants des avantages sociaux à travers ses filiales, pour conclure que l'employeur était justifié de modifier son régime d'assurance collective.

Cependant, et c'est en cela que cette décision de la Cour justifie notre attention, le juge considère qu'IBM, par ses agissements, a renoncé implicitement à son droit de modifier de façon discrétionnaire son régime de retraite.

La Cour retient, sur la base d'une interprétation large de la notion de «représentations», que les employés se sont fiés sur les informations transmises par IBM lorsqu'ils ont pris la décision de demeurer dans le régime existant à prestations déterminées. Selon la Cour, ces employés ont alors planifié leur retraite en fonction, non seulement du montant de la rente, mais aussi de la prestation de raccordement.

Il est important de noter que, jusqu'à l'annonce des changements en 2006, les relevés des prestations de retraite, le guide explicatif distribué aux employés ainsi que le logiciel de calcul des rentes estimées ne comprenaient pas de clause à l'effet que le régime de retraite pouvait être modifié par l'employeur.

La Cour conclut qu'IBM ne pouvait pas retirer à ses employés une prestation de raccordement, cette dernière faisant partie intégrante de la rémunération à laquelle les employés pouvaient s'attendre avoir droit au moment de leur retraite.

L'action collective des travailleurs et ex-employés d'IBM a donc été accueillie en partie et IBM est condamnée à payer l'ensemble des réclamations individuelles liées aux prestations de raccordement se chiffrant, avec intérêts, à 23 519 000 $.

Cette décision fait valoir l'importance, pour un employeur, de prendre les moyens nécessaires afin de communiquer aux employés de façon claire et transparente que les régimes en place pourront être modifiés de temps à autre. Ne pas mesurer la portée des annonces et représentations faites à ses employés en ce qui a trait aux avantages sociaux en place peut s'avérer, tel que nous le constatons en l'espèce, extrêmement coûteux.

IBM dit étudier ses options quant au fait de porter ce jugement en appel. Cette cause continuera donc probablement de susciter un vif intérêt.

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