IRELAND - The Pensions Board should have similar powers to the UK Pensions Regulator and be allowed to force solvent companies to address pension deficits before the firm is sold, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) has claimed.

A call for the government to introduce new legislation extending the powers of the Pensions Board is related to the situation of the SR Technics pension fund, after the firm announced it was closing the Dublin branch as part of a restructuring exercise.

Negotiations between the firm and the unions over redundancy pay and a reported €26m deficit in the pension scheme led to a referral to the Labour Court and a recommendation that SR Technics should "fully fund" the scheme. (See earlier IPE article: Labour Court tells SR Technics to fund deficit)

However, SIPTU has rejected claims by the firm that it cannot afford to meet the deficit as it argued the company is "backed by some of the wealthiest people in the world. Including Mubadala, the sovereign investment vehicle for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi".

Following discussions with the Pensions Board about SR Technics pension fund, Pat Ward, branch organiser for SIPTU, is calling for new legislation to give the Board "similar powers to its British counterpart, which can order solvent companies that are winding down or selling an enterprise to address deficits in employees' pension funds".

Ward called for the changes after a recent meeting between unions representing SR Technics employees and Brendan Kennedy, the chief executive of the Pensions Board, where Kennedy expressed sympathy for members who had been saving for 40 years and would not receive any benefits, though he pointed out "there was nothing the Board could do".

He did explain to unions, however, that in a similar situation in the UK, the Pensions Regulator (TPR) could make an order compelling a solvent company, such as SR Technics, to ensure the "continued viability of the pension fund" before selling on the Dublin plant.

Ward said: "We are now calling on the government to introduce similar legislation here as a matter or urgency to ensure that companies owned by multi-billionaires, such as SR Technics, cannot slink away from their moral obligations to ordinary hard-working people who contributed their fair share to the fund in good faith for decades."

Meanwhile, as national talks on an economic recovery plan continue between government and other stakeholders, including unions, Ward claimed the situation of SR Technics' pension deficit reinforces calls to "ensure a properly-funded occupational pension scheme is made a priority in any plan to tackle the economic crisis" as he warned "without it there seems little point in workers co-operating with plans to bail out the banks".

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