WHILE Minister Leo Varadkar was in Shannon last week to laud the airport’s recovery, there were some dark clouds gathering as its workers, along with their colleagues in Dublin and Cork airports, have all voted for industrial action.
It’s because of a €780 million hole in the Irish Aviation SuperAnnuation Scheme, and Aer Lingus employees, also affected by it, have voted for industrial action too.
Commenting on the situation, the Minister said; “It’s really for them (the pension scheme Trustees) to come up with revised proposals and I really think its incumbent on the unions to see and study those proposals before going out on strike.”
He said he expects more twists and turns before any solution is found. “I think it’s fair to say there’s probably a few more chapters yet in this dispute and I’d very much call on the unions to wait for the proposals from the trustees and to study them before inconveniencing passengers and business people by disrupting travel.”
Pensions are a huge problem for many in the private sector, with many workers in different industries having seen the benefits they expected to receive evaporate.
Minister Varadkar acknowledged that changes are needed and said the Government has made a start. “There are a few things, there was new pension legislation that went through the Oireachtas at the end of last year and what that does is allow for a scheme of resolution. Where a pension fund needs to be restructured it means there’s much fairer burden sharing than there was in the past. In the past the people who had already retired got everything and somebody who was maybe 60 or 62, just on the verge of retiring, would have faced a massive haircut.
“That law has now changed to make sure there’s much fairer burden sharing. I think that’s a good thing. Due to the Waterford Crystal case we’ve had to bring in pension protection in the case of a double insolvency, where the scheme becomes insolvent and the company insolvent too, that those benefits are at least partially protected.”
He also said that mandatory contributions to pensions is something that will be introduced if more benevolent economic conditions return. “What we’re going to have to do in the medium term, and it probably should have been done a long time ago, but couldn’t be done during a period of pay cuts and austerity, is have mandatory enrolment in pension schemes. Everyone should be paying into a pension fund more or less from the day they start working, certainly from their early 20s, because the earlier you start the bigger the interest benefit at the end. That’s something that is going to happen but it’s just not going to happen yet.”