THOUSANDS of people facing drastic cuts to their pensions “do not have a voice” if they are retired more than six months, politicians will be told today.
Former ESB and Waterford Crystal workers will back a new bill that would abolish time restrictions to bring grievances against former employers to the Workplace Relations Commission.
It would give retirees the same rights as workers who are members of a pension scheme.
This would benefit them if changes that might mean major cuts to their retirement income are being examined due to big deficits.
Eileen Sweeney of the Retired Aviation Staff Association will tell a Dáil committee that pensioners were excluded from an industrial relations process that reduced their defined benefit pensions by up to 22pc.
Her submission says the average pension is €13,500.
Former Waterford Crystal workers will say those who accepted voluntary redundancy in the past were not included in a process that led to government compensation for other ex-employees due to a deficit in the fund.
“Our primary objective in addressing your committee is to ensure that what has befallen us in our 30-year struggle does not occur again for those that may happen to be victims of a similar insolvency,” says their submission.
They say the legislation should include an “early warning system” to highlight problems in schemes and set a minimum compensation level for members if a company stops trading.
The Irish Senior Citizens Parliament, representing over 500,000 retired workers, will say many are concerned that they will not live to see their “rights vindicated”.
It says its members have experience “battling the injustice of having no inclusion at the table” when negotiations regarding their income took place.
The retiree groups will discuss the industrial relations provisions in respect of pension entitlements of retired workers bill at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise today.
“It is the first time any proposal to address the absence of rights of retired workers in the decision-making process has come before the Dáil,” says the senior citizens parliament submission.
“To date they have lost colleagues who will not see their activism on this issue realised and for some, they fear that the delay in moving this bill through the stages is exactly that; a cynical ploy to outlast their voice.”
It says thousands of retired workers who have worked for decades in the private and public sectors find once they have left their job, any changes to pension schemes can happen with little notice or negotiation.
The group warns that the current system “whereby retired workers have no rights” will discourage participation in the government’s proposed auto-enrolment scheme.
In a written presentation to the committee, John Nugent of the National Pensioners Foundation, claims pension poverty is due to an “abuse of power” by pension providers and unions.
He says this is “to the exclusion of pension representation with equal rights at the negotiating table when pension issues are being negotiated”.
Mr Nugent says he is well placed to speak on the bill put forward by People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith as he is a former director of the ESB and a member of its Joint Industrial Council.
Tony Collins, chairman of the ESB Retired Staff Association, says: “Retired workers do not have a voice, nor do not have any body or organisation to refer to with grievances once they’re retired longer than six months.”
“We believe that access to the industrial relations machinery of the state is a basic right for workers and former workers,” he says.
“However, retired workers can only refer grievances that they may have with their former employer, up to six months post retirement…
“We cannot be expected to accept that only employee members of a pension scheme have a right to representation with the sponsoring employer and if necessary, the Workplace Relations Commission, and retired workers do not.”
He says last year there were two examples of the ESB holding a consultation process with employee members only on pension scheme rule changes.
Mr Collins says retired worker members of the scheme were excluded from this process, even though the scheme rules apply to all members.
He says an employer should not be permitted to impose reduced terms on retired former employees unless pensioners are made a part of the industrial relations process.
“This was not the case when in 2010 an agreement on pensions between ESB trade unions and management excluded retired workers, nor did they have a vote on the terms of the pensions agreement which directly affected retired workers.”
He says the agreement continues to have a serious impact on their financial security.
Mr Collins says pensioners are not seeking to participate in general industrial relations matters, but only on issues related to pensions.