November 20th: Unite today extended a cautious welcome to the news that the Government intends to introduce legislation providing some protection for members of Defined Benefit schemes in the event of restructuring, wind-up or insolvency. However, the union expressed concern at what it termed the Government’s “minimalist approach” to complying with the EU Insolvency Directive, and warned that the proposed legislation may not be in full compliance with the Directive.
Unite also pointed out that the Government had failed to make any proposals to resolve the Waterford Crystal pensions case, and that former workers were still being forced to await the verdict of the Irish Courts despite the European Court of Justice having ruled unequivocally that they were entitled to pension protection under the terms of the Insolvency Directive.
Commenting, Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly said:
“A full analysis of the proposals will have to await publication of the proposed legislation. While Unite welcomes the fact that, under the proposed legislation, members of DB schemes will have some protection in the event of their scheme being restructured or becoming insolvent, the 50 per cent protection envisaged by the proposals in the event of double insolvency refers to the 2007 Robins Judgement delivered by the European Court of Justice which stated that 49% was insufficient. Neither the European Court of Justice, nor any other Court since, has answered the more difficult question of what percentage is sufficient. Unite is particularly concerned that this minimum level of protection is apparently to be achieved by cutting the accrued benefits of future and existing retirees.
“An initial reading of last night’s statement appears to indicate that, under the new provisions, Irish workers would still enjoy substantially less protection than that afforded to UK workers in the wake of the Robins judgement.
“We need to remember that workers have paid in all their working lives to ensure an adequate retirement income and they deserve to be fully protected”, Mr Kelly said.
“Of more immediate concern is the situation of former Waterford Crystal employees. I would like to stress that Unite, as the union representing former Waterford Crystal workers, has received no approach from Minister Burton’s Department as of the time of issue: as far as we are concerned, the case is continuing to make its way through the Irish courts following April’s decision by the ECJ that the Irish State has failed to protect their pension entitlements.
“The situation confronting pension scheme members today is the result of a failure by successive Governments to implement a sustainable pensions policy which is not reliant on private pensions and which provides retirement security. Workers should not be asked to pay the bill either for that policy failure, or for the economic crisis which has precipitated a shortfall in many pension schemes.
“Rather than rushing through legislation, Unite would urge the Minister to consult with all stakeholders in order to devise a pension protection system which fully protects the entitlements of workers”, Mr Kelly concluded.