Labour Views for October 15, 2014

Submitted by Mary Lou Cherwaty, President

If you are a member of the Northern Employee Benefits Services (NEBS) Pension Plan or an employee of the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT), BEWARE!

The GNWT is proposing legislation in Bill 12 that can take away some of the money you were promised for your retirement.

Bill 12 breaks the pension promise made to workers at the time of hiring.  Every employee accepted employment with the understanding that the pension plan provided income security and defined benefits. Workers have deferred a portion of their hard earned wages in order to ensure this security.

The Government claims that the work on this Bill has been ongoing for the last 10 years.  Yet, this work was done without the knowledge or involvement of the plan members, beneficiaries, or bargaining agents who are critically impacted by this legislation. This is totally unacceptable!

Ironically, just a couple of weeks ago, the federal government proposed changes to the federal pension benefits standards regulations requiring much greater advance warning and disclosure to plan members, if/when members switch between defined benefit and target-benefit plans, precisely for this reason.  The GNWT is doing exactly the opposite.

 The Northern Territories Federation of Labour, together with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Union of Northern Workers and the NWT Teacher’s Association, has raised concerns with the GNWT about Bill 12. Our full submissions can be found on our websites, but following are some of the major, fundamental flaws with the Bill:

Changing a Defined Benefit plan to a Target Benefit Plan

  • Key terms such as “core” and “ancillary” are not defined
  • Changes in benefits may be allowed, such as indexation
  • Employers can unilaterally reject rate increases and make decisions
  • No worker representation on the NEBS Board or Committee
  • Possible for GNWT superannuation plan members to be included

On June 20th of this year,  an Ipsos poll of Canadians found that 94% of those surveyed agreed that “employers should live up to the commitments they have made to pensioners and employees.” Workers who have planned their retirement on the basis of promised benefits must not be left in jeopardy of seniors’ poverty when markets go sour.

 Across the country, active movements by employers to erode or destroy previously negotiated pension arrangements are resulting in bitter disputes.

The Government of New Brunswick recently attempted a similar conversion and has now admitted that communication with plan members was inadequate. Retirees have initiated legal action in response to the inadequate and misleading information.

We are recommending that Bill 12 in its current form be withdrawn.

We are requesting that the GNWT carry out meaningful consultation with a view to creating a legislative framework that stabilizes and protects the benefits of all retired, current and future plan members.

The Northern Territories Federation of Labour, together with its affiliates and supporters, will hold a mass demonstration Friday October 17 at Noon at the Legislative Assembly Building in Yellowknife. Lunch will be provided.

Please join us to tell the GNWT – “HANDS OFF OUR PENSIONS”!