Union leaders are cautiously optimistic about a pensions bill after its final public review on Thursday evening.
Bill 12 deals with Northern Employee Benefits Services (NEBS) pensions, which are held by around a thousand people in the North, including Yellowknife city staff and YK1 school board teachers.
Unions have been concerned that the bill will give NEBS fund administrators the power to retroactively reduce people’s benefits, if the fund runs low in the future.
They have characterized that as “clawing back” benefits from pension holders.
However, a motion introduced on Thursday dealt specifically with that issue.
Read: The bill as it stood prior to Thursday’s meeting (pdf)
Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro – introducing a motion to amend clause 15 of the bill regarding the reduction of benefits – acknowledged ‘concerns’ that the clause “placed an undue burden on employee beneficiaries to pay for the costs of an underfunded pension”.
She continued: “The proposed motion would remove the ability of the pension committee to retroactively reduce any earned benefit as a way of dealing with insufficient assets in the plan.”
Bisaro said there was one exception to that – involving accrual of cost-of-living indexing benefits – but this was “in keeping with the current plan text” and represented no change to the plan NEBS pension holders currently have.
Speaking after the meeting’s conclusion, teachers’ leader Gayla Meredith said the amendments appeared to address her concerns.
“It’s looking promising but we’re interested in going away and taking a closer look,” Meredith told Moose FM.
Union leaders will hold a news conference on Friday afternoon to further discuss the new-look bill.
Bisaro later told Moose FM she was convinced the bill now looks after the interests of NEBS beneficiaries.
“It’s taken a really long time but I think we’ve ended up with a really good product,” she said.
“I would say there is now certainty for people covered by the NEBS pension plan. There will be no change.
“NEBS has been operating without legislation for quite a long period of time. This bill simply puts into place guidelines and rules around which they have to operate, but they were using those rules before, so there’s really no change.”
Asked if that meant NEBS benefits were at no more risk of reduction than was previously the case, Bisaro said: “I would agree with that, yes.”
The bill is now set for a third reading in the legislative assembly later this year – after which, if it’s adopted, it will become law.