The following letter has been sent to An Taoiseach, all senior Ministers and a range of TDs. We seek their answer to two two important questions.
RETIRED SEMI STATE STAFF ASSOCIATION
Working for all Semi-State pensioners
c/o Fine Gael HQ
51 Upr. Mount St.
We represent a wide range of semi-state organisations amounting to many thousands of retired staff from Bord na Mona, ESB, RTE, CIE, Bord Gais, Eircom, Coillte, Aviation Staff, Port & Docks etc.
Proposed reforms to pension legislation do not address some essential aspects of the current legal situation as it affects our members.
We have made our case in front of a Joint Oireachtas Committee, at a Dail Presentation, to many individual TDs and to the leaders of Fianna Fail and the Labour Party. We have been pleased with the response from all the above and from individual TDs such as Brid Smith, People before Profit. Most of our members do not have a state pension and rely on their individual company Defined Benefit schemes – a fact which surprised most TDs, assuming, as they did, that everyone in this country has a state pension.
In order that we may accurately report back to our membership we need to know from you:
1. If Fine Gael support in principle the proposed version (below) of a Bill to give proper representation to pensioners (enclosed). Also see Slide 8 below.
2. Is it Fine Gael policy to continue to block pension increases awarded by company Superannuation schemes? Pascal O’Donohue has blocked a 1% increase to RTE pensioners for almost 2 years. Most pensioners we represent have had little or no increase from 2008 until the present time. Twelve years when one is 70 is a very long time. During this time the State pension has increased by over 16%. Most semi-state workers were not allowed to pay an A stamp and now are dependent solely on their company pension. A further reduction of pension of over 2% was imposed by Michael Noonan. For many of us this cut is permanent.
We would appreciate a prompt reply to these questions which will be accurately posted on our various websites and newsletters, the better for members to make decisions on February 8th.
A detailed outline of the issues follows including a suggestion for legislative changes.
Thank you in advance.
Chair, RTE Retired Staff Association
Chair, Retired Semi-State Associations
Dail Presentation on 22nd October 2019
Slide 1 RETIRED SEMI STATE STAFF ASSOCIATIONS
It is not commonly understood that many thousands of Irish citizens do not have a state pension or any of the associated benefits (medical, optical etc). The paradox is that a high proportion of these retired people have devoted their working lives for the benefit of the State. They provided the nation’s electricity, gas, peat, radio and television, telecommunications, aviation and myriad other state services which we all take for granted.
They do have company pensions, none of which have delivered any increase in pension for ten years. Furthermore, many pensioners in this category had their pensions reduced as a result of Minister Noonan’s levy. These are NOT private pensions – they are semi state pensions under ministerial control.
The Retired Pension Associations of these companies have formed a united group to provide a single voice and we have written to Minister Regina Doherty explaining our case in detail.
Slide 2. REPRESENTING 70,000 SEMI STATE PENSIONERS
Retired Semi State Staff Associations represent approximately 70,000 members. They are comprised of pensioners, their partners and families from Bord na Mona, ESB, RTE, CIE, Bord Gais, Eircom, Coillte, Aviation Staff, Port & Docks
Slide 3 PENSIONERS HAVE NO WHERE TO GO WITH GRIEVANCES
Equality Tribunal: deals with equality issues only and has a 12-month time bar.
Pensions Ombudsman: does not deal with complaints from Pension organisations.
Industrial Relations Procedures: provide protection for existing staff and members of Trade Unions. No procedures for Pensioner Organisations.
Slide 4. PENSIONS AUTHORITY REMIT UNDER PENSIONS ACT ONLY
The alternative, taking a legal case through the courts, is simply not an option as pensioners organisations have not got the resources to make challenges against Pensions Scheme Trustees or well financed Companies.
Slide 5. MINIMUM FUNDING STANDARD
The regulatory requirement to meet the Minimum Funding Standard, including the holding of a Risk Reserve can be an onerous challenge for any Pension Scheme.
We are seeking a review of Minimum Funding Standard to potentially include flexibility in relation to funding measures where necessary (to avoid for example the overstatement of liabilities in pension funds).
Liabilities for “pensioners receiving pension benefits” are currently valued using very expensive German Bonds.
Slide 6. NO ACCESS TO STATE INDUSTRIAL MACHINERY
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.
Slide 7. SECTION 23 IND.REL.ACT 1990 FORMER WORKER
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 and 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.
Slide 8. SECTION 3 IND. REL. ACT 1946 – DISPUTES (POST RETIREMENT)
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, Heather Humphries despite several requests from the ESB Retired Staff Association, has very emphatically closed the door on the request to review & amend Industrial Relations legislation in this regard.
We understand that Brid Smith and her People Before Profit colleagues have prepared amendments to the Industrial Relations legislation which would go a long way towards giving former workers a voice and to providing legitimate access for former workers to the Industrial relations Machinery of the State.
We would ask deputies form all parties & none to support these proposed amendments.
Slide 9 WRC & LABOUR COURT MUST INCLUDE DISPUTE POST RETIREMENT
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.
Slide 10. TWELVE MONTH LEGAL TIME BAR, PENSIONS ACT 1990
One of the measures that Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, Heather Humphries has proposed as a solution to our request is as follows:
An amendment to the Industrial Relations Acts in 2015 would allow a retired person, in time-limited circumstances, to seek redress from Industrial Relations bodies.
These restrictive time limits for pensioners grievances are totally inadequate and need to be amended and removed so that pensioners (former workers) are on an equal footing with workers and can have access to representation & arbitration procedures on all issues that arise post-retirement.
Slide 11 PENSIONS ACT 1990 SECTION 50 – ONE MONTH TO COURT
Minister Doherty has consistently advocated, in correspondence with ESB Retired Staff Association, that the provisions under Section 50 of the 1990 Pensions Act are the only recourse that pensioners have to make representations during a one month consultation period under the Act.
Under Section 50 of the Pensions Act, Trustees of a Pensions Scheme can make an application to the Pensions Authority to reduce benefits. This would have followed a failed request to the sponsoring employer for additional funding to address a Scheme deficit. Pensioner representative organisations have a one month consultation period to make representations on behalf of their members to contest a Section 50 application by the Trustees.
A one month time period is totally inadequate, as the only recourse that Pensioner representative groups would have during the stipulated one-month consultation period would be to the courts i.e to obtain an injunction against the Trustees.
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.”
The principle of collective pensioner representation has already been acknowledged under Section 50 of the Pensions Act.
Slide 12 BALANCE OF COST AND SUPPLEMENTARY PENSION SCHEMES
Under current legislation, there is no obligation on Employers to fund deficits in their Pension Schemes so there is no real protection for pensioners against efforts by solvent employers to renege on responsibility to their Pension Schemes and address a Fund deficit, thus putting the onus on Scheme Trustees to restructure the Schemes and reduce benefits by way of a Section 50 application.
Pensioners retired from state bodies always assumed that Defined Benefit Pension Schemes were “Balance of Cost” schemes. This means that the employer meets the balance of any deficit in the scheme. In recent years state bodies and Government have tried to deny this guarantee to meet deficits that may arise in schemes.
Most semi- state pensioners do not have access to the state contributory pension as they were contractually prevented from paying the appropriate PRSI contributions.
In the Waterford Glass judgement the European Court distinguished between the state pension schemes and supplementary “defined benefit schemes” and ruled that “It follows that the supplementary pension schemes are ‘balance of cost’ schemes, where the employer contributes annually the amount needed in addition to the employees’ contributions to balance the assets and liabilities in the long term.
Semi State defined benefit pension schemes differ from private sector defined benefit schemes in that they were established by statute giving significant powers over the regulations, management and investment policies to the Minister for Finance.
We need to establish that the state will not walk away from its obligations to former employees of state companies. Please note that in this context “Supplementary pension schemes” referred to by the European Court above are the the schemes such as the semi-state ones being discussed today.
Slide 13 PENSIONER REPRESENTATION WITH TRUSTEES OF SCHEMES
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.”
Slide 14 DEBT ON THE EMPLOYER
The proposed new legislation to be introduced in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 is an opportunity for Minister Doherty to introduce full legal protection for pensioners.
There must be financial consequences for solvent Employers who abdicate responsibility for their Pension Schemes and fail to make contributions to resolving Pension Fund deficits. The “Debt on the Employer” concept for the amount of the unresolved Pension Fund deficit is urgently required and must be enshrined in Irish Pension Law without further delay. This would ensure that solvent Employers would be liable to make payments to their Pension Schemes over a 12-month period, agreed with the Pensions Authority, to resolve a deficit in the Fund. A consequential Debt on the Employer would be incurred if the Employer fails to make payments.
Minister Doherty has bowed to pressure from corporate interests such as ESB, RTE and IBEC who have made very strong representations to prevent the “Debt on the Employer” concept measure from being included in the bill. She has removed this provision from the current version of the Bill.
The Minister for Social Protection’s primary responsibility is to pensioners not to Corporate interests.
We are asking all deputies to support the re-introduction of the “Debt on the Employer” concept in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 and to ensure that this ultimate protection for pensioners is included as part of this Bill.
This protection would eliminate the need for a Section 50 application by Scheme Trustees and the need for members to contest such an application.
Proposals for Legislation: Representation for Retired people.
Proposed wording of amendments;
The Bill will amend sections of the Trade Union Acts, the Industrial Relations Act and the Pensions Act to insure greater representation rights for representative associations of retired workers. Its working title is “Retired Workers Representation Rights Bill 2020”.
The Following gives the specific clauses it will seek to insert into those existing Acts.
In section 8 of the 1990 IR Act; An Amendment to add;
The definition of a trade dispute will contain the wording “…. including issues on pension payments and entitlements after that person has retired from employment”
The definition of a worker will also have added to it and “…..retired employees”
In Section 26A of the 1990 Act .
Amendments to IR Act to remove the current 6 month time frame for taking a case and instead replacing with a provision that allows a case to be taken up to six months after the change that affects pension entitlements has happened; A new subsection can be proposed at section 26A(4) as follows:
(4) Notwithstanding the other provisions of this section, the Commission for conciliation or an adjudication officer or, as the case may be, the Court, may investigate a trade dispute to which a worker (or workers) who has ceased to be employed by reason of his or her retirement is a party in circumstances where the dispute concerns an event which affected or affects the retired worker’s pension entitlements if
(a) the dispute was referred to the Commission for conciliation or to an adjudication officer or, as the case may be, the Court within a period of 6 months from the date on which the event to which the dispute relates occurred.
(b) Notwithstanding the timeframe set out in subsection (a), the Commission for conciliation, an adjudication officer or, as the case may be, the Court may extend the period referred to in that subsection by a further period not exceeding 6 months where the Commission for conciliation, or an adjudication officer or the Court is satisfied that the failure to refer the dispute within the period referred to in subsection (a) was due to reasonable cause
Amendments to insure Pensioners representative bodies are consulted prior to any proposed deals or changes that could affect their pensions.
An amendment to 25(1)(c), of the 1990 IR Act ,to read;
25. – (1) The Commission shall have general responsibility for promoting the improvement of industrial relations and shall—
(c) prepare codes of practice relevant to industrial relations after consultation with unions (and), employer organisations, and where the commission deems appropriate, representative associations of retired employees”;
A similar suggested amendment to s.42(2)(see words in underlined below):
S42(2) Before submitting a draft code of practice to the Minister, the Commission shall seek and consider the views of organisations representative of employers, organisations representative of workers and organisations representative of retired workers, and such other bodies as the Commission considers appropriate
And a subsequent amendment to S.42A of the 1990 IR Act ;
If, pursuant to S42 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990, a Minister has made an Order declaring that a code of practice received by him or her under Section 42 and scheduled to the order shall be a Code of Practice for the purpose of the said Act and if, in the preparation of the above code of practice, consideration, by the Commission, was not specifically given to the views of retired workers and organisations representative of retired workers, the Commission shall prepare a revised code of practice, having first sought the views of retired workers and organisations representative of retired workers alongside those of organisations representative of employers and organisations representative of workers, and shall submit the revised draft code of practice to the Minister for the making by him or her of the appropriate order.
An amendment to the 1990 Pensions Act to insure representation on trustee boards for retired members.
By adding an additional subsection into s.62 of the 1990 Act, for example a subsection 62(2)(d).
“The qualifying members should be able to vote for one or more pensioner members as member trustee nominees.