Summary of Points necessary in the Legislation concerning funds owned by members of Semi State Defined Benefit Pension schemes.
(Contrary to the recent statement in Dail Eireann, these are not Private Pension Schemes. They have all been operated under Ministerial control).
- Legislation is necessary to provide, on a statutory basis, representation rights / consultation obligations for and in respect of pensioner representative groups in connection with their pension scheme provided certain mandates / thresholds are met. Note A
- The inclusion of pensioners representative groups in pension consultation generally is needed to provide balance and equity. Note B
- The time limit in relation to pension complaints should be removed. Note C
- Mutually agreed arbitration on disputes between pensioners and pension fund managers is essential. Note D
- An independent review of Minimum Funding Standard (to avoid, for example the overstatement of liabilities in pension funds) is necessary.
- Definition on ultimate responsibility for funding deficits in Public Sector company pension funds is needed.
- Extension of employer debt to include Balance of Funding Proposal beyond a walk away 12 month period is required.
- Legal effect must be given to the legitimate expectations of Pensioners. Note E
- A prohibition or some form of guarantee on imposition of levies or similar charges on pension funds legitimately set up under legislation is necessary for the pension auto enrolment a proposal.
A Pensioners do not have any Organisation to whom they can refer grievances.
- Equality Tribunal: deals with equality issues only and has a 12-month time bar.
- Pensions Authority: does not deal with complaints from Pensioner Organisations.
- Pensions Ombudsman: does not deal with complaints from Pension organisations.
- Industrial Relations Procedures: provides protection for existing staff and members of Trade Unions. No procedures for Pensioner Organisations.
- Legal Procedures: pensioners organisations have not got the resources to make challenges to Pensions Schemes or well financed Companies.
B Access to Pension Scheme Trustees
The provisions under Section 50 of the 1990 Pensions Act are totally inadequate, as the only recourse that Pensioner representative groups would have during the stipulated one-month consultation period would be to the courts. This right of appeal is too little too late for these groups and is of no practical value as such court actions are a very costly exercise and pensioners have no financial resources to contest such court actions.”
What is required here, is an initiative by the Minister for Employment & Social Protection to amend Section V of the 1990 Pensions Act, which deals with “disclosure of information in relation to Schemes”, to allow for collective pensioner representation with the Trustees of their Pension Scheme at the “front end” and not the “back end” of a process addressing a Pension Scheme deficit. This opportunity presents itself now to include this amendment in proposed legislation, given that IORP11 directive must be enshrined in Irish law by January 2019. The provisions of the new IORP 11 EU directive include extensive provisions on the disclosure of information to all Scheme members including investment profile, financial risk, future scheme funding etc.
Representative groups should have access to Trustees to discuss issues surrounding future Scheme funding, Actuarial Valuations, security of pensions including provision for pension indexation and the existence and quality of any enforceable guarantees on the Pension Scheme provided by the employer. Representative Groups must be satisfied that no conflict of interest exists among Trustees, who should exercise their own judgement and not automatically act in accordance with the wishes of the employer or of any group of members, and that the interests of All the beneficiaries are properly served.”
C Pensioner Complaints are Time-barred
Pensioners cannot pursue grievances or complaints once they are retired more than 6/12 months as stated in Section 81E (5) and 81E (6) of 1990 Pensions Act. This section should be removed from the Pensions Act in order that pensioners can pursue genuine complaints or grievances.
D Access to Industrial Relations Machinery of the State
We believe that access to the Industrial Relations Machinery of the State is a basic right for workers and former workers whose contract of employment with their employer/former employer is binding, both in employment and retirement. It is our contention that pensions paid by the Company’s Pension Scheme are deferred pay, bound by the contract of employment with the employer.
The definition of “worker” under Section 23 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 should be amended to include “former worker”, both of whom entered, in good faith, into a contract of employment with their employer. The definition of a dispute under section 3 of the Industrial Relations Act 1946 needs to be redefined to include disputes that may arise post retirement. The remit of the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court to investigate disputes could be broadened to include disputes from former workers that arise post retirement. The restriction/ limitation of the 6/12-month period in Section 23 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 for disputes post retirement should be removed completely.
These measures would allow legitimate access for former workers to proper representation and arbitration procedures under the Industrial Relations Machinery of the State.
E Legitimate Expectation
There are many former semi-state employees who are not entitled to the State (Old Age) pension, despite having worked for decades in semi-state companies. This is because their contracts of employment did not require/did not permit those employees to contribute to the PRSI scheme. Consequently, their only income is their occupational pensions, which, in many cases, is lower than the State Pension. This income must be protected.
Semi-state pensioners had no control over investment decisions for their pension funds as all such decisions were taken under the supervision of the State. Because of State control over pensions funds, the State or the relevant semi-state company has made up deficits in semi-state pension funds in the past, for instance, ESB and Coillte, to protect pensioners.
Given this history, semi-state pensioners have a reasonable expectation that in the event of a risk to their pensions arising from their particular pension fund going into deficit, the State and/or the semi-state company or its successor will make up the deficit, as has happened in the past.
This reasonable expectation should be covered by legislation,