A group of former NewPage paper plant workers have been told they'll have to foot the bill for a mistake made by the former administrator of their pension plan.

The workers — who are already living with reduced payments because the plan was underfunded — are now being asked to pay back tens of thousands of dollars.

Morneau Shepell, the current pension plan administrator, sent letters to the pensioners this week, saying a previous plan administrator made a calculation error when figuring out payments.

"They made an error. We are required to pay," said pensioner Blair Samson.

His pension is 34 per cent smaller than he anticipated. Now, he's been told he owes $18,000 because of the miscalculation.

"They're saying we were overpaid — that Aon Hewitt, which was the first administrator, had erred and that we were overpaid," he said. "Some people were overpaid as much as $60,000."

"I never caused the error," said Harvey Warner, another pensioner. His bill is $33,000.

"There should have been audits," he said. "Don't come back to us for your mistakes."

Samson said stress is building among the pensioners who don't know what to do. He said he knows of one man who lost his home because of the financial strain.

"I think it's going to be devastating," he said. "I think you're going to see Nova Scotians from our end that worked at the mill go on welfare because I don't understand how they can make these payments."

Approximately 200 pensioners who took a specific front-loading pension option are being told they owe Morneau Shepell money.

Government not involved

Samson said it's time the province stepped up.

"Government is helping out the other mill by buying woodland and that money is going to be used to supplement their pension."

Samson and Warner were in Halifax on Wednesday, asking the provincial government for help.

At a legislature committee meeting Wednesday morning, Nancy MacNeill Smith, the superintendent of pensions, said the previous plan administrator should pay for the mistake.

'I think you're going to see Nova Scotians from our end that worked at the mill go on welfare' — Blair Samson

But Labour Minister Marilyn More was quick to distance the government from the problem.

"It's not something government can get involved with," she said. "This is a matter between the administrators of the private pension plans. We're certainly aware of the extra burden that that mistake may make." 

She pointed out that the pensioners aren't being told to pay the money immediately.

"Certainly Morneau Shepell has suggested that they're looking all possible options to see if there's anything that can be done to relieve them of that burden. But we'll have to wait and see what happens, there's nothing government can do."