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Public service professionals suing NB government over pension reforms - Telegraph Journal

CHRIS MORRIS Legislature Bureau January 24, 2016
The New Brunswick government is facing a second lawsuit over changes made to public sector pensions that have raised the ire of retirees and some unions.

The previous Tory government’s decision to convert existing pensions to a shared-risk model, put into effect in 2014, has been the subject of protest and litigation. Now a national public sector union is moving ahead with its lawsuit against the province.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada has filed a notice of action in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Fredericton, alleging that the New Brunswick pension reform violates section 2D of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically freedom of association.

The professional institute represents about 1,300 provincial and federal employees in New Brunswick, including skilled professionals such as Crown prosecutors, engineers, land surveyors, legal aid lawyers and veterinarians.

“The legislation implementing the shared-risk pension plan includes within it a prohibition from bargaining over pensions in the public sector in New Brunswick – one of the few topics explicitly excluded from collective bargaining,” said Isabelle Roy, general counsel for the institute, headquartered in Ottawa.

“Section 2D of the Charter, which provides protection for collective bargaining as a fundamental element of freedom of association, is being raised and the argument is that it is unconstitutional to prevent bargaining over an issue so important as pensions.”

The union expects to file a full statement of claim by the end of the month.

The Pension Coalition NB, representing about 13,000 civil service retirees, also is suing the provincial government over shared-risk pension reform.

The coalition filed its lawsuit in the Court of Queen’s Bench last year alleging that the provincial government violated the Charter by unilaterally imposing the shared-risk model on retirees.

Shared-risk pensions allow for employers and employees to split the costs when pension plans perform poorly and share the benefits when they do well.

Cost-of-living increases, which were guaranteed under the old pension model, now are conditional on the performance of plans.

Public sector pensioners opposed the changes from the start.

“We want our contracts honoured,” coalition spokesman Clifford Kennedy said. “We want our base guaranteed along with the COLA (annual cost-of-living increases).”

Kennedy said the Coalition will be in court next month to set a timetable for its lawsuit.

Both the Liberal government and the Tory opposition decline to comment on the pending litigation.

Roy said that unlike pensioners in the Coalition, the professional institute’s lawsuit focuses on active members of the plan and those represented by bargaining agents.

“In fact as a union, this challenge really revolves around not having the opportunity to bargain over pensions in light of the sweeping changes that were made. So our challenge would focus primarily on active, unionized members of the plan.”