The New Brunswick legislature has unanimously passed amendments to the Pension Benefits Act to increase the pension payments of retirees of the former Fraser Papers mill in Edmundston.
The changes were required to convert the pension plan of the retirees, as well as the current mill employees of Twin Rivers Paper Co., to a shared-risk model, by October.
MLAs interrupted their summer vacations to gather for a special one-day legislative session on Tuesday to deal with the matter.
Under the changes, retired hourly workers will collect 64.6 per cent of their salary instead of the current 56 per cent, while retired salaried workers will see 69 per cent of their salary, up from 65 per cent.
"They cannot afford to waste another day," said Premier David Alward. "This is real change for the retirees in the Edmundston area. It will have a real impact on their monthly income," he said.
'If we didn't do it now, then it would be as much as eight months later and that's completely unacceptable.' - Premier David Alward
"If we didn't do it now, then it would be as much as eight months later and that's completely unacceptable."
The changes are part of a deal with the mill's new owners, announced by the provincial government on Monday.
Twin Rivers Paper Co. has agreed to make payments of between $12.5 million and $52.9 million over the next four to 15 years into a shared-risk pension plan for Fraser Papers retirees, as well as current employees.
The company also plans to invest up to $70 million in upgrades to its operations as a result of the additional 200,000 cubic metres of Crown wood it will receive under the new forest management strategy.
With the provincial election looming, the Liberals say the deal could be politically motivated.
"Maybe on the land deal," said Bathurst Liberal MLA Brian Kenny.
"But I think the pension amendments being done here today are something that have been asked by the company and employees and this is something that is important to move forward," he said.
Members of the Fraser Papers' plan voted in favour of the pension changes earlier this month.
The benefits of retirees had been slashed by more than one-third after Fraser Papers went bankrupt in 2009, leaving the pension plan underfunded.
In 2010, the legislature inserted special wording into the Pension Benefits Act to delay the wind-up of the Fraser Papers' pension plan. That section required amending.
The rare call for the politicians to reconvene comes less than one month before the Aug. 21 launch of the campaign for the Sept. 22 provincial election.
The final scheduled sitting of the legislature was in May.