IRELAND - SIPTU, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, has warned discussions with the government on a national recovery plan will need to address the issue of workers in occupational schemes losing their pension through company insolvency, or any lack of agreement could lead to fresh strikes.

The union has given the government until 1 May to agree the main points of a settlement which would resolve what it claims is a lack of a second pillar pension system,and said one of the key priorities in the resumed talks with government and the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) is to address the "reality of the pension's deficit in this country". 

Jack O'Connor, general president of SIPTU, suggested the banking "debacle" offers an opportunity to deal with the "unfolding social crisis" relating to workers who are members of funded occupational schemes but who "now receive little or nothing because these funds have become insolvent due to the collapse of the equity markets globally".

SIPTU is calling for the creation of a new universal pay-related pension system  - using a PRSI-based mandatory mechanism - to address the fact almost 50% of Irish workers do not have occupational pension provision and more than half have inadequate savings, as offiicals claim "it is now clear that the defined benefit pension system is unsustainable". 
O'Connor said: "We recognise this can only be developed incrementally over time. However, we insist on an interim arrangement to address the crisis faced by union members who have paid for their pensions throughout their lives and who will receive little or nothing in the end."

Possible solutions put forward by SIPTU include:

Establishing a limited fund to provide benefits as they fall due until the new system is operational, and Offering trustees of DB schemes the option to transfer all or part of the fund - in the case of employer insolvency - to the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) in return for guaranteed payment of a proportion of the accrued benefits.

O'Connor warned: "I do not expect the trade union negotiators will recommend any proposition which fails to address the plight of members who have paid for occupational pensions throughout their working lives and must now retire with little or nothing, and I want to make it absolutely, unequivocally clear that the officers and other participants representing SIPTU will not recommend any such proposition."

He said unions had conducted a national ballot for a mandate to wage an ongoing industrial campaign across the country if it becomes necessary, and added "we will see in a short few weeks if this talks process has any potential and if it doesn't we will have no alternative but to embark on a prolonged industrial campaign". (See earlier IPE article: ICTU calls off pension strike to enter talks)

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