Industrial Relations (Provisions in Respect of Pension Entitlements of Retired Workers) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend and extend certain rights and protections of retired persons and certain representative associations in relation to industrial relations and trade disputes and for that purpose to amend the Trade Union Acts 1871 to 1990 and the Industrial Relations Acts 1946 to 2019, to make provision for enhanced representation of retired workers in relation to the administration of certain pension schemes, to amend the Pensions Act 1990 and to provide for related matters.

Some years ago, outside the Dáil, I met with a large group of retired workers. I am sure that most Members did. It was days before the budget. Protests in that period were not unusual before Covid. They were there to present their grievances and issues that affected them. At the time of the protest, it struck me that they were well-organised, wearing high-visibility jackets and emblems. They were disciplined and orderly. It was impressive. It was not thousands of schoolkids against climate or people with a political axe to grind but they were serious about what they were there for. What was striking about the protest was the age profile. They were retired workers from across the public sector, semi-State sector and private industry. They were men and women who had worked all their lives, often since childhood, from the ages of 15 and 16 in a particular semi-State company or part of the private sector. They were men and women who gave service and their lives of labour. They witnessed many recessions and fought many campaigns to improve their livelihoods and the rights of their colleagues in their trade unions and workplaces. They were the epitome of the cohort that the Tánaiste likes to refer to when he claims to represent the interests of ordinary people. They got up early every day, paid their bills and their taxes. They then ended up outside Leinster House, protesting and asking us to listen to their grievances.

As they assembled there from various workplaces, both private and public, it seemed to be about why their pensions were under attack. It was not just why or how their pensions were under attack but the fact that they were left out of the discussion about what was to happen to their income and livelihoods for the rest of their lives. They had no say or voice in a process to change the terms and conditions of their pensions and livelihoods. The hurt was the common factor among them. We are not talking about retired workers with gold-plated pensions. They were not quibbling about hundreds of thousands of euro but asking for a say in what were really deferred wages, which is the golden rule of pensions. They are deferred wages.

In those scenarios where workers had their pensions affected, they wanted to have a say. This Bill will address the underlying economic and social injustice done to pensioners who have no say in what happens to their pensions. In the words of one retiree, the purpose of this Bill is to have "nothing about us without us". It is to ensure that retired workers are consulted and involved in a process that will affect their pensions and, if they see the need, they will be able to take a case as a collective to the Workplace Relations Commission, which is currently not allowed. It will ensure that they are in the room when deals are being done that will materially affect their livelihoods. I thank that group of retired workers. Many have endorsed this Bill, the measures in which will seek to ensure that their voice is heard, both in the Workplace Relations Commission and on the boards of trustees.

In the words of the semi-State retired staff association to Members of this House, the proposed Bill represents an important step forward for the rights of retired employees. For years, they have lobbied for a change to rectify the injustice of former employees having effectively no voice with regard to their own pensions. They strongly advocate for support for this simple but elegant measure.

I ask Deputies to support the Bill.

I thank Owen McCormack in my office, who has put a great amount of work into this, as well as the staff in the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisers, OPLA, who have co-operated and worked extremely hard. Most of all, I thank the tens of thousands of retired workers who gave service to this country and to industries across it. They deserve to be recognised and to be around the table when their livelihoods stand to be affected and when something for which they have worked all their lives, a form of pension payment, is to be stripped away from them without them being given any say in the matter or without any knowledge of it. We will all grow old. We are growing older by the minute. From that perspective, this Bill affects all of us and all of our futures. I hope it will pass through these Houses.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.