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Civil service retirees abandon class action to recover benefits

Apr 27 2012

About 27,000 retirees from the provincial civil service have given up on a lengthy class action lawsuit to recover millions of dollars paid into medical insurance premiums.

The retirees felt the provincial government owed them $90 million for reducing their premiums for Medical Services Plan benefits and Extended Health Care benefits.

The provincial government in 2002 decided to stop paying 100 per cent of employee premiums, which the retirees argued constituted a breach of contract.

The B.C. Supreme Court in 2005 approved a class-action lawsuit, launched by Frederick Bennett. At trial, however, the courts ruled that the government was under no contractual obligation to pay out the benefits.

The retirees appealed and were in court until June 2011. The Court of Appeal upheld the original ruling last month.

Government workers across the country can expect to see more of these type of cutbacks, said lawyer Albert Peeling, who had been arguing the case for the retirees.

"Pensions everywhere are under siege," he said. "It's tough for the people who thought they were promised this and planned their retirement a certain way."

Bennett and his 27,000 retirees could have sought approval for an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, but have decided against it.

"There's not much left to do," said Sarjit Manhas, president of the B.C. Government Retired Employees Association, the group that first approached Peeling with their case. "This has been a long process."

Peeling said the retirees, many of them now between 75 and 85, still feel robbed of what they thought was part of their employment terms.

The province argued in court that it had no obligation under a collective agreement or legislation to pay the premiums.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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