To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his views regarding the measures he is putting in place to enable former employees gain access to the State’s industrial relations machinery, for example in circumstances where issues arise in relation to a pension scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
For ORAL answer on Thursday, 16th October, 2014.
Ref No: 39074/14
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Mr Bruton)
I fully appreciate the concerns of retired and deferred members of pension schemes whose schemes are being restructured, particularly where such restructuring may impact on existing or potential pension benefits.
The question of whether it is appropriate that pensioner groups have access to the State’s industrial relations machinery in pursuing pension scheme grievances has been raised for consideration.
It should be pointed out that the Trustees of a particular pension scheme are already required by law to act in the best interests of all the members. On that basis the trustees have to take account of the interests of the deferred and pensioner members in any proposals they make.
This is an issue to which I have given careful consideration, particularly in light of representations made to me in this regard.
In addition, my Department also consulted with the industrial relations bodies under the auspices of my Department on the issues that arise in the context of collective representation of retired and deferred members of pension schemes in such circumstances.
In this context, it is important to stress that the industrial relations system in Ireland is voluntary in nature both as regards access to the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court. Any change to that principle which would put in place a mandated right to be part of the process would alter fundamentally the conduct of industrial relations.
As it stands, active members of pension schemes (through their Trade Unions) regularly engage with the employer to attempt to reach a common position as regards changes to pension schemes whether as a result of a crisis in the scheme or otherwise. In all such cases the outcome of that engagement can only be a collective agreement which cannot, of itself, change the pension scheme. Any proposed changes to the scheme are effected via the mechanisms set out in the trust deeds and rules of the scheme and are at the discretion of the parties so designated in the rules/deeds of the scheme. It may be that it is within this framework that a collective approach could be most effective.
On a separate but related matter, I am actively considering the introduction of access rights for individual workers to the proposed Workplace Relations Commission in terms of pursuing issues relating to terms and conditions of the relevant worker that pertained at the time of retirement.