Dáil Issues, Social Welfare, Worker's Rights

To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his proposals in relation to allowing former employees access the State’s industrial relations procedures so that they can have a voice in relation to pension matters, as referred to by the Minister for Social Protection during the recent the debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2013.

– Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Thursday, 13th March, 2014.

Ref No: 12139/14


Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Mr Bruton)

I propose to take Questions 16 and 37 together.

Access to the Industrial Relations machinery of the State is governed by the definition of “worker” in Section 23 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990, which provides, inter alia, that a “worker” means any person aged 15 years or more who has entered into or works under a contract with an employer.

In addition, section 3 of the Industrial Relations Act 1946 provides that a dispute between a worker and an employer only arises if it is connected with the employment, non-employment or the terms of the employment or with the conditions of employment of any person.

Legal advice received by the Labour Court on a number of occasions suggests that a person who is retired cannot be regarded as a worker and cannot be party to a trade dispute capable of investigation by the Court. Where a person is retired they cannot have a dispute concerning their employment or non-employment.

The Court is, however, entitled to investigate a matter which arose prior to an individual’s retirement and which was referred to the Labour Relations Commission or Labour Court prior to the individual’s retirement.

In the context of work on the draft Workplace Relations Bill, I am currently considering issues which have arisen in the context of the provision of access to individual former employees to the industrial relations machinery of the State under the Industrial Relations Acts, where they have not referred their claim prior to their retirement. Any change in this area would require amendments to the definition of ‘worker’ within the meaning of section 23 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 and to the definition of ‘trade dispute’ within the meaning of section 3 of the Industrial Relations Act 1946.

I am informed by my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, that any consideration of a restructure of pension scheme benefits under section 50 of the Pensions Act must comply with the provisions in the Pensions Act and with guidance issued by the Pensions Board. This guidance makes provision for the notification of all pensioners in advance of any application to the Pensions Board to restructure scheme benefits. In such circumstances a pensioner will have at least one month to make a submission to the trustees of the scheme in relation to such a proposal. The Pensions Board must be satisfied that all the provisions in the guidance are complied with before the Board will consider issuing a notice to restructure scheme benefits.

Officials from my Department and the Department of Social Protections have held initial discussions to explore how retired persons could have collective representation with the Trustees of the Pension Schemes of which they are members and, perhaps more problematically, with former employers where changes to the scheme are being negotiated between employers and employees that may impact on retired persons.

The issue requires careful consideration; it is apparent, however, that it does not lie exclusively within the industrial relations framework.