Nova Scotia

NewPage workers ask for legislative pension changes

Workers and retirees at the shuttered NewPage Port Hawkesbury paper mill in Cape Breton are asking the Nova Scotia government for some legislative changes to help soften the blow from their underfunded pension plans.
Workers at the NewPage Port Hawkesbury mill are asking the government for changes to help soften the blow from their underfunded pension plans. (CBC) (CBC)

Workers and retirees at the shuttered NewPage Port Hawkesbury paper mill in Cape Breton are asking the Nova Scotia government for some legislative changes to help soften the blow from their underfunded pension plans.

Don Mackenzie, the regional representative for the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, said there's a way to help salvage some of the pensions by allowing the plan to rebuild over a number of years.

"As the markets move forward, people would receive a bump up in their pensions," he told CBC News on Thursday.

"If we delayed for say, eight years or 10 years or 11 years, each year we expect that … based on the trends that are out there, the pensioners would receive an improvement of the plan status."

As it stands, NewPage Port Hawkesbury pensioners are poised to lose an average of about 35 per cent of their benefits.

Pacific West Commercial Corp., the British Columbia firm looking to restart the mill, has already said it will not inherit the mill's four pensions plans, which are underfunded by approximately $130 million.

Mackenzie said the decision rests with the Nova Scotia government, which will need to amend the Pension Benefits Act or introduce new legislation that will allow the pension plan to live on beyond the life of the mill.

Ron Pink, the lawyer for the union, said even in the best-case scenario, pensioners will only gain another five per cent of their income.

"It's significant money to lots of people. None of it is good. Let's be clear, none of this is very good. Taking a 35 per cent haircut in your pension is bad news," he said.

"I'm getting slapped, how bad am I getting slapped?"

Unionized and non-unionized workers at the NewPage Port Hawkesbury mill voted Thursday to ask the government to adopt the new legislation.

They're hoping it can be in place before the spring sitting of the legislature ends and before the sale to Pacific West Commercial Corp. is finalized.