real estate arms of major Canadian pension funds scrutinized for COVID-19 responsibility to workers

Pension fund watchdog tuned to real estate arms

Friday, May 15, 2020

Board trustees for some of Canada’s most prominent commercial real estate portfolios are underscoring the obligations owed to on-site building services personnel during the COVID-19 crisis. The Canadian Capital Stewardship Network (CCSN) — established earlier this year to scrutinize investors and investment decisions on behalf of pension plan members — has announced its intentions to examine commitment to worker health, safety and well-being within the real estate arms of ten Canadian pension funds.

CCSN has developed four principles for responsible real estate management during the COVID-19 pandemic, which will also serve as the metrics for assessing the ten companies’ performance. These consider practices and policies related to workers’ financial stability, safety, flexibility to deal with family and personal pressures, and potential vulnerability as contractors’ employees.

“We know that for service providers such as cleaners and security guards to be able to do their job properly, they must be adequately trained, able to access proper personal protective equipment, appropriately supported, fairly compensated and provided with decent working conditions,” reiterates Shannon Rohan, chief strategy officer with the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), the sponsoring organization for CCSN.

The four principles align with the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Canada’s Pathway Back to Work guidance document, which provides guidance on reopening buildings from the four key perspectives of: building operations; suppliers and vendors; tenant and building communications; and human resources.

“The questions and guidelines are thoughtful and appropriate and we look forward to engaging constructively with the industry on this critical topic,” notes Cam Nelson, a union-appointed trustee on the board of the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP).

HOOPP, however, does not have a real estate arm but, instead, outsources portfolio management to various third-party managers. Pension funds with prominent in-house real estate divisions include Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS), British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (bcIMC), and Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.

Unions represented in CCSN include the Public Service Alliance of Canada, United Steelworkers, Canadian Building Trades Union, Service Employees International Union, British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union and la Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec.

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