“That Dáil Éireann:
— in five weeks’ time the pension age is due to increase to 67 years of age on 1st January, 2021;
— legislation needed to stop the pension age increasing to 67 in January has not passed through the House;
— every worker in the State makes a considerable tax contribution throughout their working life and should have the right to retire at 65;
— some workers want to retire at 65, while others want to remain at work, where they are able and willing to do so;
— numerous employment contracts stipulate an end of employment date in line with when an employee turns 65;
— since the abolition of the State Pension Transition payment, thousands of 65-year olds have had to sign on for a Jobseeker’s payment;
— there are now over 4,000 65-year olds in receipt of either Jobseeker’s Allowance or Jobseeker’s Benefit;
— there is a difference of €45.30 between the Jobseeker payments and the State Pension leading to an annual loss of €2,355.60; and
— the pension age is scheduled in legislation to increase to 67 years in 2021, and 68 years in 2028; and
calls on the Government to:
— restore the State Pension Transition payment for those retiring at 65 years of age;
— abolish mandatory retirement (with exceptions for security-related employment) to give workers the choice to work or retire so long as they are fit to do so;
— make provision for those who remain at work beyond 65 to have their Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) contributions counted towards their State Pension; and
— immediately introduce legislation to remove the pension age increase to 67 years and the further increases.”
I will make the Sinn Féin position very clear for the avoidance of any doubt. We want to see workers have the right to retire at 65 with their State pension, the pension for which they have worked all of their lives. It is not good enough to defer or postpone the rise in the pension age. I am glad the Minister has repealed this measure and that she has listened to an Teachta Kerrane and the Stop67 campaign. Workers deserve better than to be told that they must go on the dole, although they do not have to seek work, which is what the Minister has tried to tell them. That is the dole queue by another name and the Minister knows it. Sending people who have worked hard for all of their lives to the dole queue is not right. It is unfair and it is wrong.
If I were a Minister, I would ensure that workers would have the right to retire with their State pension at the age of 65. I have spent the vast majority of my working life defending workers and their rights. I came to the Dáil to continue that work. I sometimes wonder how connected to the real world this Government actually is. It does not seem to understand what it is like to have to work all day on one's feet or in a manual job before coming home from work physically exhausted. It does not seem to understand the dignity the old age pension gives people who have worked all their lives. These people can now say, that is it, their shift is done, they are going to get the pension they have earned and enjoy the time they have left because they are finished working and finished with any prospect of being unemployed. They have retired. That is why this motion is so important.
The pension age was one of the biggest issues in the last election in February. Voters across the State expressed their opposition to the increase in the pension age throughout the election campaign, so much so that they forced Fine Gael into a U-turn. I welcome the publication of the legislation, which was clearly a response to this motion. I welcome the repeal of the rise in the pension age to 67 and I commend the work of an Teachta Kerrane and the Stop67 campaign.
Workers make a considerable tax and PRSI contribution throughout their working lives. They should have the right to retire at 65. Some workers will not take that opportunity to retire. Some will want to remain at work because they are able and willing to do so. These workers should be allowed to keep working. The mandatory retirement age should be abolished so that workers would have the choice to work or retire as they wish.
Take, for example, plasterers, carpenters, cleaners, waitresses or barmen who have worked their whole lives. Their bodies are ready to retire at 65. They have been on their feet for all of their working lives. Their bodies have been through enough. This is the fundamental point of this debate. It is about the right to finish working after a lifetime of work.
At 65, one is finished working. One is not unemployed. In February, I spoke to workers on the doors in Fingal. They did not feel able to continue working but did not want to be sent to the dole queue or any queue like it. I spoke to a builder in Balbriggan. The conversation I had with him has stayed with me. I was thinking about him tonight while writing down a few notes before this debate. He was 64 and said that he was tired. He did not feel able to work to 66, much less 67. He should not have to draw on the dole or anything like it. This man has since turned 65 and has finished working. He has had to sign on. He paid every shilling, penny and cent he was supposed to. As my mother always says, workers of her generation paid tax when tax was tax. The Government is now saying thanks to them for everything they have done but telling them that, although they helped the State and worked hard all their lives, the State is not going to help them now. It is asking them to sign on for the next two years.
If people like this man want to retire at 65, they should be entitled to their pensions. They have earned that right. Sending people who have worked hard all of their lives to a dole queue at 65 is wrong and unfair. Unfortunately, due to pension changes over recent years, there are now more than 4,000 65-year-olds in receipt of jobseeker's allowance or benefit. These workers are retired, not unemployed. Telling them that it is okay because they will be given the dole, although it will not be called that, is not right. There is a difference of €45.30 per week between these payments. That is a hell of a lot of money. The Minister knows what the right thing to do is. Workers will not be fooled. They want the pension they have earned and the right to retire at 65. Giving it to them is the right thing to do.