North

Yellowknife unions say bill could claw back retirement benefits

Several unions in Yellowknife say changes to some government employees' pension plans could claw back benefits from people who have already retired.
About 150 people gathered outside the N.W.T. legislative assembly at noon Friday to voice concerns about Bill 12, the Northern Employees Benefits Pension Plan Act. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Several unions in Yellowknife say changes to some government employees' pension plans could claw back benefits from people who have already retired. 

About 150 people gathered outside the N.W.T. legislative assembly at noon Friday to voice concerns about Bill 12, the Northern Employees Benefits Pension Plan Act. They included representatives from the Union of Northern Workers, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the N.W.T. Federation of Labour and the N.W.T. Teachers' Association.

"There's a lot at risk for the beneficiaries of the NEBS plan, because when they retire, although they have fixed bills to address, they're not necessarily going to have fixed income," said Jack Bourassa, regional executive vice-president with PSAC North.

"What is a concern with the legislation of itself is firstly there wasn't any consultation with one half of the stakeholders. It was an employer-driven initiative."

The proposed bill affects about 1,000 workers, including hamlet and City of Yellowknife employees, as well as Yellowknife public school board teachers.

Bill 12 was released publicly in February, when it received first and second reading in the legislature. The unions say they weren't consulted and the potential changes came as an unwelcome surprise.

The concerns relate to a section that refers to the option of reducing “ancillary benefits.”

"We know pension plans need legislative frameworks for protection. That is not what this is about," Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers told the crowd.

"Indexation can be an ancillary benefit under a target plan and can retroactively be pulled away at any point by the plan administrator. We don't want legislation that allows that."

Bourassa said he wants the bill to be scrapped until all the stakeholders are consulted. 

"As it stands, If there's some discrepancy with regards to perceived liabilities, those liabilities could be liquidated from the books of the employer and placed squarely on the shoulders of the beneficiaries themselves," he said. 

Pension plan defends proposed changes 

But Northern Employees Benefits Services says the legislation doesn't grant its pension committee any new powers.

Shawn Maley, the group's chief executive officer, says it clarifies steps to take if there was a market downturn that required reductions. 

"Our pension committee currently has the ability to reduce any of the pension programs that they see fit or reduce benefits," he said.

"We haven't done it since 1978 and we've never reduced benefits and I think our track record of contribution rates being constant since 2002 speaks for themselves. 

"Unfortunately certain groups have decided to key in on the possibility of reductions happening in terns of market downturn and put some fear out there. That's certainly not the premise of the legislation and certainly not the track record of the pension committee."

He says the goal of the legislation is to protect pensions and firm up the legal framework.

"As far as we're concerned the message has been out there," said Maley. 

On Thursday a committee of MLAs told the legislative assembly they would be extending the consultation period on the bill until the end of the month.

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