Unite vows to defend pension rights, public sector workers

unite-white-out-of-redPension age increase does not take account of glaring health inequalities

Varadkar warned on strike restriction

Unite successes in reversing NI public sector cuts highlighted

May 23rd: This afternoon’s debate at Unite’s Fourth Irish Policy Conference in Belfast focussed on pensions, public services and the public workers who deliver them.

Opening the debate on pensions, Unite Regional Co-Ordinating Officer Richie Browne noted that pensions are a key battleground for workers, and that there has been a long-term and non-stop campaign being conducted at national and international level to undermine workers’ rights to a public pension in retirement, and to transfer the pensions risk from employers and the state to working people.

“Every week we are bombarded with scare stories about the so-called ‘pension time-bomb’: longer life expectancies, we are told, have rendered decent pensions unaffordable.

But pension provision, like so much else, is about choices. And the wrong choices have meant poverty and deprivation for too many pensioners North and South.

For all too many reliant on the current flat rate state pensions, the choice each winter is between heating and eating. So it’s not surprising that, each winter, older people in communities across the island die as a result of cold-related conditions such as respiratory and cardiovascular illness”, Richie Browne said.

Highlighting the relationship between health inequalities and unilateral increases to the State Pension age, Marie Casey (RI/109 Branch) said:

“Pensions are a contract. A contract between workers and the state, and – in the case of occupational pensions – between workers and their employers.

The increase in the State pension is a unilateral breach of that contract – and the poorer you are, the worse the impact of that breach.

In terms of Euros and Cents, working people will be deprived of approximately €12,000 benefit for each year that the State pension age is increased – a benefit for which they have paid through their social insurance contributions, and which they expected to receive.

But it’s not just about the weekly pension payment. Health inequalities mean that those near or at the bottom of the income pyramid will have to work for longer in worse health – and will have less time to enjoy their retirement and the pension for which they have paid”.


Seconding the motion on retirement age, Kitty Warnock (RI 11/Dundalk branch) highlighted the need for workers to be able to exercise choice when it comes to retirement age:

“We should not force people to work beyond their usual retirement age – and we have heard about the impact of extending the retirement age, both physically and in terms of retirement income.

Nobody should be forced to continue working beyond their workplace retirement age for financial reasons – to avoid or postpone pensioner poverty.

But nor should anybody be forced to retire when they are able and willing to continue working and contributing.

Our movement – the trade union movement – opposes age discrimination at either end of the age spectrum”.

Speaking during the public sector debate, Richie Browne – who sits on the ICTU Public Services Committee – responded to yesterday’s threat by Fine Gael leadership hopeful Leo Varadkar’s threat to restrict the right of public sector workers to strike:

“If industrial action following a Labour Court recommendation is to be made illegal – Unite will not be attending the Labour Court. We will not participate in any process which would tie our members’ hands. Minister Varadkar’s proposals are not only anti-worker and anti-democratic. They are quite likely to be counter-productive”.

Turning to Northern Ireland, Richie Browne highlighted the union’s successes in reversing public sector cuts, pointing out that:

“Unite took successful strike action to halt the threat to public transport services, including 14 town centre routes. Our members forced Belfast City Council to provide funding for mental care centres, and restore funding for a city wide tribunal service. And Unite members have led successful campaigns to defeat proposals to close Daisy Hill A&E services. Unite will continue defending public services and the workers who provide them across the island of Ireland”.

David Muirhead (Senior Rep, Royal Victoria Hospital) highlighted the need for investment in public services, saying:

“Campaigns need to be co-ordinated to promote investment in public services, highlighting the benefits of such investment for all communities across this island. With public services under attacks from both government and private profiteers, Unite and our members needs to form alliances that will allow people power campaigns to lead the way in protecting our public service, North and South”.

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