Unilateral closure of Irish Life pension scheme may trigger industrial action

unite-white-out-of-redIreland’s largest pension provider accused of ‘prioritising balance sheet over workers’ 

Move to DC scheme will hit around 700 Unite members

January 15th:  Unite today announced that it is holding a series of consultative meetings with members in pensions giant Irish Life prior to balloting for industrial action in response to the company’s unilateral decision to close its Defined Benefit pension scheme as of June 30th.  Unite represents approximately 1000 workers in Irish Life, of whom around 700 are in the DB pension scheme.  Overall, the scheme has around 3000 members, including pensioners and deferred members.  The scheme has never been in deficit and currently has a surplus of approximately €200 million, with assets of around €1.1 billion.

Commenting, Unite Regional Coordinating Officer Richie Browne said:

“As Ireland’s largest pension provider, Irish Life has been trusted for decades to provide income security in retirement.  Yet now it has unilaterally decided to deny its own workers that same security.  Unite has been advised that an employee would have to fund their new Defined Contribution pension by between 20% and 40% to yield a comparable retirement income to the current Defined Benefit pension.

“There is only one reason why Irish Life would close a scheme that is in surplus:  it wants to get any financial risk off its balance sheet. By closing the Defined Benefit scheme and moving staff to a Defined Contribution scheme, the company has effectively transferred all risk to its employees.  Irish Life and its parent company Great-West Lifeco are clearly prioritising the health of their balance sheets over the retirement security of their workers”, Richie Browne said.

Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock, who succeeded Jimmy Kelly as head of Unite in Ireland at the beginning of January, added:

“Pension security is a critical issue for Unite members, and we are not prepared to accept Irish Life’s unilateral decision to close a Defined Benefit scheme which is in surplus and has over €1 billion in assets. Last month, an Extraordinary General Meeting of our members in Irish Life gave a mandate to ballot for industrial action in the event of the company unilaterally closing the DB scheme, and we are currently holding consultative meetings prior to that ballot taking place.

“Unite notes that Irish Life is likely to seek a role in any new auto-enrolment scheme for private sector workers.  Before playing any part in the State’s pension plans, Ireland’s largest pension provider needs to clean up its own act or face the prospect of industrial action.  Unite stands four-square behind our members as they fight this latest assault on retirement security”, Mr Pollock concluded.

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