New Brunswick teachers oppose government's shared risk pension proposal

Province can no longer afford pension contributions at current levels

FREDERICTON (CP) – The New Brunswick Teachers Federation says it is willing to negotiate pension reform with the provincial government but has no interest in having a shared-risk plan imposed on them.

Federation co-president Peter Fullerton says the premier has promised meetings to review its defined benefits plan, but a letter this week from Finance Minister Blaine Higgs lays out a shared-risk model.

“If what we're getting is this shared risk model, we're not interested in taking part in it,'' Fullerton said. “It's just a farce.''

Fullerton says the letter from Higgs shows “a gross amount of disrespect by the government.''

In the letter to the federation, Higgs said that since 1978, the government has paid $2.63 for every $1 contributed by the teachers.

“The province can no longer afford to continue making contributions to the (teachers pension plan) at current levels,'' Higgs wrote.

The letter details how the plan could change under the government's proposal.

However, Education Minister Marie Claude Blais says the government will negotiate with the teachers.

“We are asking the teachers federation to come to the table. We are more than willing to talk with them,'' Blais said Friday.

In the letter, Higgs said he hopes to complete discussions by the end of February.

Fullerton said those meetings will be a charade if the changes are just imposed.

He said the pension plan is about 90 per cent funded and doesn't need the kind of reforms required by other public sector groups in the province.

The government has moved to a shared-risk model for the 17,000 current and 13,000 former government employees covered by the Public Service Superannuation Act.

Under the changes, both the government and employees will pay higher premiums, but the government will be spared from making large annual contributions to top up the pension, and cost-of-living increases aren't guaranteed.

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant says the pension debate has caused bad blood and teachers are worried.

“They are very worried about the consultations they are allegedly going to have with the government, considering the fact that they have a letter that says the pension plan is going to change and its already determined what it is going to look like,'' Gallant said.

Premier David Alward says the federation asked for the letter to find out the government's position.

“The pension plan, as it is today, is not sustainable,'' Alward said.

He said changes are needed but the revised plan doesn't necessarily have to be a shared-risk model.

“We don't care what it's called as long as basic principles are met, and as long as it is sustainable for the pensioners, for the current and future employees and for the taxpayers,'' Alward said.

The federation has about 8,000 current members and about 6,000 retirees.

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