IRELAND - The Labour Court has issued a recommendation for the Bank of Ireland to re-open its DB scheme to include employees that were hired after October 1 2006.

Until a deal on the bank's pension arrangements has been reached, new staff members should be given a once-off option to join the DB scheme which the bank closed in October, the court suggested. It also recommended further negotiations between the bank and the unions over the next three months.

Both the unions and the bank have agreed to participate in these talks. But the bank only wants to decide on whether or not to implement the court recommendation after this new negotiation process. The unions, on the other hand, want the DB scheme to be opened straight away.

This dispute puts new fuel into the fiery debate over the Bank of Ireland's pension arrangements. The bank closed its DB scheme to new members last year in an effort to make pension arrangements more affordable.

The bank's offer of a DB/DC hybrid scheme has been rejected by the unions as an inadequate cash balance arrangement which would only provide 30-40% of the salary at retirement, according to national Amicus officer Jerry Shanahan.

A Bank of Ireland spokeswoman stressed that the new pension arrangements were more generous than those of main competitors in the Irish market.

Shanahan hopes that in the upcoming negotiations an agreement can be reached "on a formula which can deal with the concerns we have in relation to the provision of DB schemes for new entrants.

He pointed out that satisfactory agreements have already been reached with companies like Royal and Sun Alliance, Allianz, Irish Life & Permanent TSB and EBS Building Society. "If these arrangements are taken into consideration, it will be possible to come to an agreement," he told IPE.