IRELAND - The Irish Bank Officials Association (IBOA) is to fight a decision by Ulster Bank to change pension accrual rates and seek further arbitration, following a breakdown in the mediation process.

Meanwhile, the Garda Representative Association has lost its appeal against the imposition of the pension levy on Garda employees.

* Ulster Bank had announced its intention to reduce accrual rates from 1/60 to 1/80 of salary as from 1 April 2010 for staff who did not opt into a new contract of employment. IBOA claimed this contract is "significantly inferior" as it caps pensionable salary increases at 2.5% per year.

IBOA said the move to reduce accrual rates is inequitable and breaches the bank's own commitment to ensure that staff who do not opt into a new contract would have their decision fully recognised and respected. The union also claimed it is an attempt by the bank to penalise individual members of staff who decided to remain on existing terms and conditions of employment.

Mediation took place on 9 and 10 March between the two parties and with Kieran Mulvey, chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission, who is acting as an independent mediator. Mulvey had then put informal proposals to IBOA and Ulster Bank.

IBOA said it had indicated to Mulvey that his proposal could provide a basis for resolving the issue and had sought further engagement with himself and the bank. But Mulvey then concluded that he was not in a position to make a recommendation.

So in a bulletin sent to IBOA members on 24 March, Steve Tweed, the union's senior industrial relations officer, said: "This is an extremely disappointing development, particularly after informal proposals had been put to both sides. The bank appears determined to ignore these proposals and proceed to try to impose its original decision unilaterally."

IBOA has now written to the Labour Court and the Labour Relations Agency, the arbitration services for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland respectively, arguing that the change in accrual rate is not necessary and that the staff affected are being treated unfairly.

Tweed said: "We have also sought commitments from the bank that there will be no attempt to implement this change unilaterally with effect from 1 April 2010. IBOA is also concerned that the bank may attempt to approach the pension trustees with a view to seeking their endorsement for the imposition of this change, despite the fact that this matter has not been agreed."

Ulster Bank was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

Elsewhere, The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has lost its High Court case to secure an exemption from the Irish pension levy.

The pension levy was introduced last year under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009, as part of an austerity package intended to control public finances.

From 1 March 2009 onwards, public servants have therefore handed over amounts ranging from between 3% and 10% of salary.

However, the Act excludes certain groups - such as the president, the judiciary and military judges - from the levy. It also confers discretion on the minister for finance to exempt other groups of employees.

The GRA had brought the case against Brian Lenihan, the minister for finance, claiming he had failed to properly exercise this discretion when refusing an application to exempt gardai from the levy.

But in his judgement delivered on 25 March, Mr Justice Charleton said the reasons given by Lenihan for refusing the application were both "sufficient and adequate".

The judge said: "The submission to the respondent was fully and adequately considered by him in accordance with the law."

A GRA spokesman said the association was taking legal advice on possible further action.

He said a main motive behind the legal action had been to find out the reasons behind Lenihan's refusal so that they could be challenged, but the judgement had not specified what they were.

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