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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 30 Jun 2021

Vol. 1009 No. 5

Industrial Relations (Provisions in Respect of Pension Entitlements of Retired Workers) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I want to start by thanking the many associations and federations of retired workers that have campaigned in respect of and raised over many years the general issue that this Bill seeks to address. It is a tribute to them that the Bill is before the Dáil. I want also to thank the staff of the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisers, OPLA, who worked with us on the legislation over a number of years.

In 2018, I met a delegation of retired workers outside the Dáil on a miserable, wet and cold day. They were well-organised and passionate about their cause. They carried a real grievance about their treatment since retirement. They were retired ESB workers. Later, we met with retired workers from RTÉ, Eir, Bord na Móna, the Civil Service and myriad other State and semi-State companies. Despite the differences in their particular workplaces, a common theme was the feeling of having been abandoned once they retired. They were protesting against changes that had profound and negative consequences on their pensions. These included cuts in payments, the severing of the link with their working colleagues and other changes of which they were not notified, not consulted upon and the results of which they could not even question or seek any redress on.

These workers built this State and its infrastructure. Often, they built their trade unions and won the pay and conditions enjoyed by the members of the current workforce in their workplaces. Yet, once they retired, these workers became invisible and unrepresented. They are often seen as the collateral damage in deals done without any thought for the consequences for them or the impact on their living standards. They have no redress and no right to arbitration or representation once a period of six months has passed since they retired. As one worker said, they are treated like bees. If they are not worker bees, they do not seem to count. For all the platitudes that are used about how important older people are, the reality is that they are poorly served and cared for by the State they have built. We are told about the demographic time bomb and we are warned about the burden of people living longer. The language used is telling - if you are not a worker bee and are unable to be economically productive, you are seen as a burden, regardless of the contribution you have made in your working life.

In this debate, we are surrounded by many of the bigger arguments such as the fight for the right to retire at 65 or 66 years of age, the demand for greater contributions from young workers towards their pensions, etc. At the same time, these young workers will be subject to phenomenal reductions in their benefits when they retire. There are also arguments around the onslaught on defined benefit schemes and the demands from the pension industry, and so on. I have views on these issues which are probably very different from those of the Ministers and other Deputies in the House. For now, I will simply state that I reject much of the hysteria relating to this debate. There are options and alternatives available that could see us defend the right to retire at the age of 65 on liveable pensions with access to good public services and healthcare.

Regardless of the views of those in this House on these wider issues, however, nothing in the great pension debate can justify not giving retired workers a say or a right to consultation on changes to their pensions when they have retired. In many cases, they have paid their contributions to these schemes for decades, they have effectively concluded a social contract on the benefits they will receive when they retire and the contributions from their former employers are part of their wages. After all, pensions are deferred wages. Yet, six months after these workers have retired, they are effectively denied having any say in what happens to their pension schemes and their pensions. It is true that they can approach the Pensions Authority or the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman of Ireland, but only in very limited circumstances. Overall, retired workers who have approached these bodies have found that they do not represent them and do not alter or challenge the cuts, changes and attacks on the schemes of which they are members. Workers have said that it feels more like a box-ticking exercise.

That is why the right to real consultation and the right to take cases to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, are central to this Bill. The right of these workers to have the organisations that they have built up represent them in retirement is what this Bill is all about. They are under no illusions that the Bill will stop future attacks on, or changes being made to, their schemes. Their central demand is their absolute right to be consulted on any proposed changes and to be heard. It is a case of nothing about us without us.

The other major element of the Bill is an attempt to address the inequality to which retired workers are subject in the context of their ability to play a role on the board of trustees of their schemes. Elected positions are often available on these boards but retired workers face huge disadvantages in seeking election, not least because it is unlikely that they will be known in the workplace following retirement and they may not have access to many of those voting. The Bill seeks to reverse this, and reserve a position for nominated pensioner candidates in cases where there are two or more elected positions available.

We understand this is not a perfect proposal, and indeed, will not address many of the problems faced by retired workers in this area. For example, the board of trustees of ESB has an extraordinary method of selecting trustee members for election, with potential candidates being screened by the company. This has resulted in a most serious injustice being inflicted upon retired workers. It has seen perfectly competent and knowledgeable candidates being prevented from standing for election by the company. Unfortunately, this Bill will not force ESB or other companies to address the issue. However, we hope that on Committee Stage we can begin to explore the issue. Indeed, I call on ESB to stop this blatant discrimination against retired workers who were instrumental in building the company.

Finally, I wish to address the Government amendment. I know, from bitter experience, the danger of the Government kicking the can down the road, but in this case, the amendment is really quite extraordinary. At the outset, I stated that retired workers have campaigned on this issue for more than a decade. If the Minister for Social Protection or any member of the Government had come to the gates of the Dáil yesterday to meet them, they would know that many of them are in their 70s and 80s. With the amendment, the Government is pretending that it is not opposing the Bill while delaying its progress by a year. What is it going to do in that year? I expect that it will consult with trade unions, employers, business groups and industrial relation bodies. I expect that it even intends to consult the UN and NATO. It will not consult the group that this Bill is all about, however. There is no mention of consulting retired workers. It is deeply ironic and insulting that the Government response to this Bill, which is about the need to consult retired workers on their pension schemes, is an amendment that will result in those retired workers and their representative groups being ignored entirely. The Government is proposing a consultation process that will compound the insult these workers have suffered over the years.

Let me give the Government the message the workers gave to me. If it thinks that its proposal will be accepted by them, it is wrong. As soon as Covid restrictions are lifted, Government Deputies will not see dozens of the workers and their representative groups at the gates of the Dáil; they will see thousands of retired workers, in unity at the gates, demanding justice and the right to a voice and to representation. They may not be worker bees, but they can sting. Retired workers are not retired voters.

I pay tribute to Deputy Bríd Smith and the People Before Profit activists involved in working on this Bill. In particular, I pay tribute to the organisations of retired workers that have campaigned and fought on this issue and sought change. There is an extremely long list of them that is too long to read out.

There is a crucial context to the Bill, which is often apparent in the Dáil. That context can only be described as a war on pensions. It has been going on for a number of decades. Defined benefit scheme after defined benefit scheme has either been scrapped or downgraded to a yellow-pack defined contribution scheme. Three out of four defined benefit schemes have been closed, as bosses try to evade their responsibility to provide decent pensions. The downgrading of schemes to defined contribution schemes leaves people's pensions at the mercy of the casino of the stock market. Having worked all of their lives, these workers want the right to retire in security and with knowledge of the incomes that they will receive.

We saw a similar reneging on the part of the Government in respect of its responsibilities when it tried to increase the pension age to 67 and then 68. I believe it would still like to do that but was pushed back by the reaction of voters in the general election. The Government strategy, as on so many issues, is to divide and rule. It is a case of young versus old and public versus private. In reality, the division in society is between the workers who created an enormous amount of the wealth in this country and who want to retire and those who benefit from that wealth.

Pensions are deferred wages. The right to a decent pension when you retire is one of the great achievements of the workers movement historically. It is also one of the great achievements of the social welfare states created in the aftermath of the Second World War. The attack on the very concept of pensions tells us a great deal about modern capitalism and the priorities of the economic system. The truth is that we can afford decent pensions for all. Ireland is the fifth richest country in the world and has the fifth highest number of millionaires per capita.

Yet, the Government and the right-wing economic commentators claim it is a crisis that people are living longer as opposed to it being a good thing that they are living longer. They have created an enormous amount of wealth and, therefore, they should be able to retire in comfort.

The context of the Bill is that many people have found after retiring that their pension rights had been whittled away through negotiations at which they did not even have a seat at the table. We have had cases of direct cuts to benefits, freezes and more. They have no way to speak out, however. Once they are out of the workplace for more than six months, they cannot even go to the WRC. All they are demanding is the right to be consulted and to go to the WRC. It is a very simple and reasonable demand. They are demanding that retired workers be seen and heard when it comes to negotiations affecting their pensions. For too long they have been locked out, their representative groups have not been included and they have had no right to take cases to the WRC or similar bodies. This Bill from People Before Profit would fix that by giving retired workers the right to have their voices heard, putting them on a par with current workers and their unions. It has been endorsed by retired staff associations, representing hundreds of thousands of workers as well as Age Action and the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament.

The message is clear: do not gag retired workers, give them a voice. Yesterday, retired workers gathered outside Leinster House demanding that this Bill be supported. The Government's plan is to kick the can down the road yet again with a 12-month delay. Justice delayed is justice denied. We and the retired workers will not accept this stalling tactic. The message of the protesters to the Government was clear: they may be retired workers, but they are active voters. If the Government delays and denies this change, those people will not forget. Having worked all their lives, they are demanding basic rights and they will not put up with being told that they must wait.

I ask every Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party Deputy who are thinking of supporting the Government's amendment to think again. If they vote to delay this Bill and silence those retired workers, they had better think twice before asking them for a vote in the next election. How those Deputies vote tonight will be a matter of public record, shared with those pensioners in their constituencies. If they deny the pensioners a voice, they may very well vote to deny themselves the opportunity to win back their seats in the next general election.

The Government would do well to heed the warnings that were given by retired workers and pensioners outside the gates of Leinster House yesterday. It will press its amendment at its peril. I ask the Government, even at this point, not to move the amendment, which will delay the passing of the Bill. It was most eloquently put by one retired worker who said, "We may no longer be worker bees, but we are still bees with a sting." If the Government is in any doubt about that, it should cast its mind back to the grey army that took to the streets on the issue of medical card entitlement and the rebellion the then Government faced. We are talking about almost 500,000 retired workers who are very angry that they have no say over cuts to their pension entitlements.

As Deputy Paul Murphy stated, we have seen a relentless attack on pension rights generally and these workers have seen very considerable attacks on their pensions. Defined benefit pension schemes are being closed down or moved to defined contribution schemes. Aviation workers, for example, have lost 22.5% of their monthly incomes without any serious consultation. Retired workers in RTÉ, Coillte and Bord na Móna have not seen any increase in their pensions for ten to 14 years. Many of the workers on these schemes do not qualify for the State contribution pension scheme and therefore rely on a very modest occupational pension. Many have seen the link that previously existed between their wages when they were working and their pension entitlements severed.

People may think that this is not an issue for them because they are not pensioners, but all of those who are working now have an interest in it because they will be pensioners at some stage and they will realise at that point how important it is to have a real say in respect of their pensions. Of course, these workers paid for their pensions through their PRSI contributions. They paid very considerably more than their employers did relative to what happens in most countries in Europe. Workers here pay pretty much the same level of PRSI contributions as the average worker in Europe, but employers in this country pay about half the amount that their counterparts abroad pay. It is often cited that people are living longer and that the pensions we have to pay people are somehow a problem, which is quite insulting to pensioners and illogical. We should be celebrating that people live longer. We should also remember that if employers paid the same level of PRSI contributions as their European counterparts, we would have billions of euro extra to ensure decent pensions for all pensioners in this country.

Another important point pensioners and retired workers asked us to stress is how they believe the failure of the Government to allow them have a say over what happens to their pensions is that they believe it breaches multiple parts of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. It breaches the sections on the right to property, the right to equality before the law for everybody, the rights of the elderly and the right to good administration. I will not go into all the details, but that is undoubtedly true. If for no other reason than this country is supposed to be signed up to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Government should not move its amendment and should allow the Bill to pass and give pensioners the right to simply have a say and be consulted, and have the avenue of the WRC available to them if any changes to their pensions are proposed.

The pensioners also expressed considerable disappointment that the official trade union movement, which they built, has been so quiet on this issue. I must admit that is disappointing. In France, when there is any attack on pensions, there are extraordinary revolts by workers and pensioners, who understand instinctively that an attack on pensions and pensioners is an attack on all workers and their rights.

Even at this late stage, I ask the Minister of State to withdraw the Government's amendment and not defer the Bill. If the amendment is not withdrawn, the Government will incur the wrath of the pensioners to whom I refer. It should be under no illusion but that wrath will be very considerable for the three Government parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. These retired workers literally built this country. The people who protested yesterday included public servants, nurses, Coillte workers, Bord na Móna workers, aviation workers, ESB workers and many more I do not have time to name. These are literally the people who physically built this country. The Government should not continue to ignore them and treat them with the disrespect with which they are being treated. It should give them the right to have a say over their pensions or it will feel the sting of these retired workers in the near future.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

“Dáil Éireann acknowledges and resolves that the Industrial Relations (Provisions in Respect of Pension Entitlements of Retired Workers) Bill 2021 be deemed to be read a second time this day 12 months, to allow for consultation between the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Minister for Social Protection and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, with unions and employers and the Industrial Relations bodies, which will allow for full discussion and exploration of legal and technical issues that may arise, such as increased business costs and business viability, as a result of the proposals and to consider other options for change which might be available, and which would make it more suitable for collective bargaining.”

I thank Deputy Bríd Smith and her colleagues for giving the House an opportunity to debate this issue concerning retired persons in receipt of occupational pension benefits. This legislative proposal is premised on the idea that retired persons who are members of such schemes should be granted access to the industrial relations machinery of the State. The rationale for this access is to ensure that retired persons are given a voice in industrial relations processes with regard to matters affecting occupational pensions and other issues. I appreciate there is an argument that the necessity for this inclusion in collective representation is based on the belief that pension entitlements are a form of deferred wages and that any changes affecting pension schemes are unfair to the retired workers. I fully understand that several former workers of semi-State companies feel aggrieved that they may not have received increases to their pensions in recent years. I did not get a chance to engage yesterday with the former workers who were protesting outside Leinster House but I have received emails and phone calls on the matter and have had conversations with many such workers. I will get a chance during the time allowed under the amendment to engage further with them on this issue.

The premise of ensuring that a person has a voice in matters affecting him or her is perfectly reasonable. It is obvious that Deputy Bríd Smith and her colleagues have engaged extensively with retired persons and their associations in the preparation of the Bill. I commend the Deputy on this work and on her interest in the matter. I know the effort involved in bringing forward legislation that one believes will have a positive impact and I accept that the Deputy believes the Bill will have a positive impact. It is clear that the proposal is attempting to address the specific concerns or, to use the legal term, the mischiefs that the representative associations have identified to the Deputy. The Bill is an attempt to address that but the difficulty is that, as a Government, we have to look at the overall and wider picture, rather than just the individual concerns. That is why the amendment proposes allowing time for us to tease this out and work through it. The proposal in the amendment to allow a period of 12 months is about ensuring we can make a genuine attempt to examine the issue and engage on it with parties from across the sector. Of course, that would involve engaging with the retired workers affected, such as those who protested yesterday and have been contacting us. That is a natural part of the work we would do.

Before I touch on the proposals relating to the Pensions Act, which are a policy matter for the Minister for Social Protection, I wish to flag policy considerations in my areas of responsibility and some of the issues with which we have difficulty and concerns that we have to try to tease out and work through. The matter is not as straightforward as just accepting the Bill, although I accept it is a genuine attempt to deal with the grievances of the retired workers in question. Traditionally, industrial relations revolve around the relationship between workers or employees and their employers. A trade dispute means any dispute between employers and workers which is connected with the employment or non-employment or the terms or conditions of employment or those affecting the employment of any person. The term "non-employment" has been extensively considered by the courts and is understood to mean dismissal, redundancy or a person seeking employment with a given employer. A retired person is legally understood to be retired. In legal terms, a person cannot have a dual designation of "worker" and "retired" at the same time. A person is one or the other and a retired worker cannot actively be involved in a trade dispute involving matters of employment and non-employment. This legislative proposal would introduce a novel element and change to this established tradition and, as such, it needs to be fully examined, investigated and worked through.

Industrial relations disputes involve a totality of the terms and conditions of existing workers, matters which, in the main, do not affect retired persons. The policy underlying industrial relations dispute resolution mechanisms in Ireland is to maintain industrial harmony and to ensure fairness in workplaces. A concern that my Department has to work through is that the inclusion of a third category of participants to trade disputes, with narrow singular interests in the collective bargaining process, may distort the interests of those parties for whom the process was originally designed. The inclusion of a third party to such negotiations may deter legitimate parties involved in the trade dispute from agreeing to engage in dispute resolution processes in the first place. This could have the unintended consequence of undermining the overall policy rationale for industrial harmony. I know that certainly is not something Deputy Bríd Smith wishes to do. I am not saying it is what she is trying to do; I am just saying these are the issues about which we have concerns and have to try to work out.

We must acknowledge that currently there is no legal obligation on any employer to offer a pension scheme to its staff. The introduction of a legal entitlement for retired persons to have a seat at the negotiating table because of said pension entitlement might make occupational pension schemes a less attractive proposition for employers. I know that is not something the Deputy wishes to encourage and we would not like to see it happen either. It is not a desirable policy prospect and I am sure it is not something that any Member of this House intends to bring about. I am not saying Deputy Bríd Smith intends to do so; I am just flagging the issues that have to be addressed.

It has already been recognised that there is legitimacy, in time-limited circumstances, for retired persons to seek redress from the industrial relations bodies. In 2015, the Industrial Relations Acts were amended through the insertion of section 26A to the 1990 Act. It allows a retired person to access the industrial relations bodies for a period of six months post retirement in respect of matters arising pre-retirement. This six-month timeframe within which to make a complaint for matters arising post retirement commences on the date of retirement or the date on when the grievance became known or ought to have become known. Section 26A was inserted into the 1990 Act to address the injustice whereby persons were unable to address work-related issues that may have come to light only after retirement, even though they related to matters that had arisen pre-retirement. It ought to be noted that there are exceptional circumstances in which the Labour Court will extend the six-month time limit associated with the date of retirement on a case-by-case basis where the justice of the case so requires. That is a decision it can make.

The second policy area within my remit relates to the Trade Union Acts, which provide for the licensing of bodies carrying on negotiations relating to fixing wages and other conditions of employment. My Department and I have a concern with the drafting in the Bill that appears to suggest that an entity purporting to represent the ill-defined category of "retired worker", who may very well be actual workers, could rely on the exemption to the requirement for a negotiating licence and ability to refer disputes relating to occupational pension terms to the industrial relations machinery of the State to seek access to public service pay negotiations. Such entities have no role in the determination of the terms and conditions of public service employees or the negotiation of any aspect of pay or remuneration. Any unintentional consequence of such an exemption needs to be addressed and worked through. I am again flagging our concerns in this regard.

As regards the proposed amendments to the Pensions Act 1990, scheme trustees already have duties and responsibilities under trust law, the Pensions Act 1990, as amended, and other relevant legislation. The duties of pension scheme trustees include administering the scheme in accordance with the law and the terms of the trust deed and scheme rules, as well as ensuring compliance with the requirements that apply to these schemes. Trustees must act in the best financial interest of all scheme members, whether active, deferred or retired, and must serve all beneficiaries of the scheme impartially. Although section 62 of the 1990 Act, or the regulations made under that section, do not currently specifically provide that member trustees must include at least one pensioner member or provide that member trustees must include one or more active members, they do provide an opportunity for such membership by either cohort and pensioner members may avail of that opportunity to become scheme trustees or nominate others to act on their behalf.

The proposed amendment in section 10 of the Bill appears to give a guarantee of preferential treatment, in the elections for trustees, of pensioner member candidates where such candidates have been nominated. However, as I have stated, the position is that those appointed as trustees have a fiduciary duty to represent all members, be they active, deferred or pensioner, of a scheme impartially and to act in the best financial interests of all members. If there is a conflict of interest, then a person’s duty as a trustee must take precedence over other interests. Accordingly, any trustee who acts in the interests of pensioner members above the interests of another cohort of the scheme would be in breach of this fiduciary duty.

The proposed amendment does not provide for any guaranteed selection or appointment in respect of other scheme cohorts and, therefore, the preferential treatment of pensioner members provided by this proposed amendment could be viewed as inequitable and discriminatory. Again, I am sure that is not something Deputy Bríd Smith would like to see happening. If this proposal was accepted as it is currently drafted, the effect of the proposed amendment at section 10 could result in a preponderance of pensioner members being selected to the trustee board, to the exclusion of other member cohorts. I assume that is not the intended outcome.

Regulations made under section 62 of the Pensions Act are subject to section 59A of the 1990 Act, which has been recently amended to require that trustees must satisfy good repute and integrity requirements on an individual basis, and qualifications, knowledge and experience requirements on a collective basis. Accordingly, any amendment to section 62 or to the 1990 Act in general, must be considered with the recent amendments to that Act in mind. Any guarantee in respect of the selection or appointment of pensioner trustees would have to be framed in such a manner as to ensure such pensioner trustees will satisfy those requirements as, otherwise, such a person, or the trustees as a whole, may be in breach of section 59A of the 1990 Act.

With the foregoing, the Government requires more detailed analysis and consultation about this legislative proposal. The Bill introduces amendments that have wider consequences than those stated for the target audience. These must be carefully considered but the Government is willing to look at these issues. As I stated at the outset, I understand this is a genuine attempt to correct certain concerns. The Government, however, has a duty to take into account the wider picture and fully interrogate this legislation. We are prepared to do that. I hope the Members opposite will accept our amendment to give us time to do that.

Before I take up some of the points made by the Minister of State, will a copy of his speech be distributed to the Deputies in the House in order that we can look at it before the close of the debate itself?

A key point the Minister of State tried to make was that there are various interest groups involved, namely, employers on the one hand and employees on the other. He then introduced a third category, that of retired workers. We would argue that in reality the interests of workers and the interests of retired workers are one in the same. They should not be treated for the purposes of this debate as two separate categories. Retired workers are part of the workers' movement and they have common interests with people who are currently in employment.

The Minister of State made the point that occupational pension schemes are optional and that, if retired workers are given rights in the process, it could scare off employers from initiating and participating in schemes with the result that workers would have to pay more. A simple remedy is that the Minister of State no longer makes occupational pension schemes optional but makes them compulsory and makes it a duty of an employer to participate in them.

Points were raised towards the end of the Minister of State's contribution about a situation where there would be more trustees representing retired workers disproportionately as opposed to workers who are currently in employment. I do not necessarily see that situation arising. That is an issue that can be teased out on Committee Stage. It is not a reason for delaying the passage of this Bill for 12 months.

Last, but far from least, the Government has asked for more time. The Minister of State said it needed another year to tease these points out, as though this was a new issue that arrived on the scene yesterday or the day before. These are issues that have been knocking on the door for more than ten years. The Government has had more than ten years to address them. Now it is trying to kick the can down the road for another year. The ESB workers have already had their pay frozen for 11 years, while RTÉ workers have had theirs frozen for 13 years. However, the Minister of State is asking for more time. A cynic looking at the lines of argument the Minister of State is putting forward might think he is trying to kick the can down the road until such time as the majority of the country's retired workers have passed away and that will resolve the issue. We are not going to allow that to be the case. More importantly, the retired workers and their organisations will not allow that.

The amendment should be withdrawn. The Bill should pass Second Stage tonight and should go to Committee Stage. If there are issues that need to be addressed - I am sure there are - they can be dealt with on Committee Stage. There can be no more delays on this issue.

The Government is also open to a reasonable charge of hypocrisy on these issues. The gold-plated pensions of Ministers and the extraordinarily generous pension arrangements for all Deputies are one thing. Workers in occupational pension schemes, however, have to deal with a different scenario. One former leader of this country, Bertie Ahern, draws down €135,000 a year in pensions. I suspect he draws down more than that because that figure was the last information we could get before the blackout curtains came down on this area in 2016. Another former leader of the country, Brian Cowen, draws down €135,000-----

I remind the Deputy he should not mention the names of people who are not in the House.

The dogs on the street know these things anyway.

But this is the House of Parliament.

Let us leave names out of it and mention a figure instead. The figure I will mention is the €10 million paid out in political pensions in 2018 alone. It is one rule for Ministers and Deputies and another rule for the pensioners in question. The retired workers in question are the people who have played a key role in and contributed more to the building of this country. I challenge Members to name one group who has contributed more to the building of this country than have retired workers. There is none. There are positives and negatives in this country. On the positive side of the balance book, in terms of what has been contributed, built up and passed on to the next generation, there is no group that has contributed more than the retired workers.

However, they were a convenient punchbag for conservative Governments led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and participated in by the Green Party and the Labour Party, in the austerity years. They were made the whipping boys and girls of austerity by the taking of the knife to the defined benefit schemes, three quarters of which have now gone. It was done by promoting the cheapskate defined contribution schemes, by ending the index link between pensions and the rise of wages within society and by putting forward the phoney argument that this is necessary because of demographic changes. Capitalism is a system that is in crisis and decline. A system developing and expanding in a healthy way would be able to accommodate the demographic changes without enormous bother while providing for decent pensions and decent increases for people who have contributed so much to society. Instead, these pensioners have had their pensions frozen, as per the examples referred to earlier, or in many other cases actually cut.

I want to echo the point that it is a shame and scandal that the leadership of the trade union movement has allowed that to happen without opposing or resisting it or without making a fight on the issue. That could and should have been done. It is a disgrace it has not been done to date. Instead, the Government is trying to infantilise the pensioners in question. These people are responsible members of society who have raised families. Many of them are grandparents but yet, one would not treat a child this way. They have no say on their pension scheme whatsoever. The decisions will be made over their heads. There is no seat for a pensioner whatsoever at the table. The decisions will be made for them. This is an attempt to infantilise a generation of people who built this country up. It is a disgrace.

They are a large group of people, however. There are nearly 500,000 workers in occupational pension schemes. They will be ignored at the Government's peril. They are ex-workers but not ex-voters. They have shown in the past what they can do when they use their muscle. They showed what they could do when they took to the streets when there was an attempt to take the medical cards from the over-70s. They showed what they could do in the last general election.

Like a bolt from the blue, an issue that had been beneath the radar emerged above the surface and put the establishment parties of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael under huge pressure. This was the cuts to the State pension and the attempt to raise its qualifying age from 65 to 66, 67 or 68, which they agreed among themselves. It was a bolt from the blue that strongly hit those parties in the general election. The grey panthers had a real impact on that general election and will have a real impact on the next election, as well as before it in terms of the pressure that can and will be exerted if the Government continue to play them for fools.

The Government is in the last chance saloon on this issue. I ask the Minister of State to withdraw the amendment and allow the Bill to pass Second Stage tonight. If there are issues with it, and I have no doubt there are, they can be teased out on Committee Stage.

I thank the Deputies for bringing forward this important legislation. It gives us a good opportunity to have a discussion about both pensions in general and a specific group of former workers. As has been pointed out, they might be former workers but they most definitely are not former voters.

I have some experience of dealing with occupational pension schemes from my previous employment. It always struck me that it is very tough to get people interested in a pension scheme, in being trustees or being active in it, when they are 25 years old because they think retirement might never happen. It is something that happens to other people and just does not really interest or excite people. Unfortunately for many pension schemes, the only time people get seriously interested is when they are actually looking at retirement and, therefore, there can sometimes be a disproportionate focus on a group of workers who are nearer to retirement, which can have a detrimental impact on retirees, deferred pensioners and, indeed, younger workers. I will use some of my time to encourage any people who have an occupational pension scheme in their workplace to take the time to get involved in it and not wait until they are close to benefiting from it.

I come from a trade union and activist background and one of our mantras or mottoes was always, "Nothing about us without us". Yet there are groups of pensioners and former workers who have decisions taken for them, not just about their pension schemes but about the money they have. These are people on a fixed income who are excluded from decisions taken. As we can see from the level of support from the various associations, they want to be included and actively involved as part of this process but they are effectively excluded. These workers do not have a choice so everything about them is without them because they have no say, are absolutely voiceless and yet are impacted by decisions that are taken.

I take it from the Minister of State's speech that there is, at the very least, recognition on the part of the Government that this situation needs to be addressed. I do not understand why there is a need to kick this issue down the road. The legislation can be taken as it is now. Sinn Féin support it, which is not to say we would not propose amendments to strengthen it or that we would not want to work with the sponsors to ensure any issues that might arise can be addressed. However, the Government is saying there is an issue but it needs a year to think about it. Surely that time would be more productively spent engaging with this legislation, amending it as necessary, having that debate and having the opportunity on Committee Stage to invite retired members in to give them a voice. They do not have a voice. That is why we are having this debate, to give them that voice and opportunity to be involved in what is, essentially, their income and the money they rely on to buy their groceries, pay their rent, in some cases, and their mortgages, as well as to keep body and soul together etc.

The Government knows this is a pattern but I do not understand why, when the Opposition suggests something, the Government says, "That would be the right thing to do but let us not just do that right now, let us just wait". Everything is either not opposed but not supported or kicked down the road for a year. I appreciate that. I read in the newspaper, just as everybody else did, of the discussions that took place at a parliamentary party meeting for one of the Government parties, where it was said they did not want to be known as the nasty party. This is not going to help that, however, because these retired workers are not stupid. They read the newspapers and will watch this debate. They see what happens. The Government says that it needs to do something but will just not do it now.

I encourage the Government to withdraw its amendment. I also encourage any retired workers who are members of an occupational pension scheme to engage with Deputies in their area who are opposing this because if it is being kicked down the road, that is effectively what is being done. They should engage with those Deputies who are saying "not now", encourage them to support it and make their voices heard. This legislation essentially addresses the fact that their voices are absent from a very important aspect of their lives. Once again, I thank the Deputies for bringing forward this legislation. Sinn Féin will be supporting it and I encourage the Government to withdraw its amendment.

I remember in the run-up to the election last year queueing at a funeral in Abbeydorney and seeing an election poster on the street. One person in front of me turned to the other and said, "Who thought that our pensions were going to be one of the biggest issues in this election?". Since then, the issue of workers' rights has never been far away. Whether it is redundancies, overtime, the lack of double time, the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, or the Debenhams workers, we have seen how employers seem to hold all the cards.

This Bill is a welcome counterweight to the increasingly lopsided balance against workers' rights. I always think of the ordinary print workers in The Kerryman whose pensions were decimated in the lottery of the stock market. Allowing workers enhanced representation when changes are being made to their pensions who, having worked all their lives, are entering retirement without property, shares or other assets, is the least they deserve.

During and since the years of austerity the drive to shrink the State and to outsource has decimated good employment, especially in towns that were heavily reliant on the public sector, manufacturing and ESB workers etc. The contribution of these workers cannot be taken for granted. Their current working lot is bad enough without being denied their entitlements. As was pointed out by colleagues today and last week, it is simply unfair that workers are obliged to retire at 65 years of age on a jobseeker's rate of €203. This is below the poverty line in a State with the second highest cost of living in Europe, where food and utility bills are high and where in rural areas, the cost of maintaining, keeping and paying for a car is driving people further into poverty.

Contrast that with the pensions of some recently retired Fine Gael members who left this House before the age of 50. Did the parties that formed the Government not hear the voices of the electorate or the people standing in line at the funeral in Abbeydorney who said loud and clear that this is not acceptable? Retirement should be a time to relax with grandchildren in economic comfort as a reward for working for many years, which allows you to contribute in other ways to the economic and social life of our towns and villages. This Bill goes some way to restoring that ideal and this motion should pass today. There should be no delay and we should move to Committee Stage as soon as possible.

I am very happy to support this Bill to give pensioners a greater say in how their pension benefits, to which they paid into while working, are determined. Many workers have contributed to pension funds while working and from which their pensions are now paid. However, as soon as they retire or, at the most, six months thereafter, they no longer have any say in the terms and conditions around their pensions. Changes can be made with very little warning and no consultation with those in receipt of pensions.

I commend Deputy Bríd Smith on bringing forward this Bill. It is very important to give people who worked so hard for many years in this country a say over their future and to allow them to access the Workplace Relations Commission if the terms and conditions of their pension change without their say.

People need security for the future.

I have been contacted by retired members of various organisations, particularly former employees of the ESB, in regard to this matter. The issue of pensions needs to be dealt with comprehensively by the Government and decisions need to be taken rather than continually kicked down the road. Community employment, CE, supervisors have been denied the right to secure pension entitlements, an issue that was ruled on by the Labour Court in 2008. That ruling found in favour of the supervisors and that the Department responsible for the scheme should grant supervisors pension entitlements, but, 13 years later, this has still not happened. Shame on the Governments, led by both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, since that time. CE schemes throughout the country were to the fore in responding to the Covid crisis by helping with the Community Call and many other matters. Unlike the majority of the sector, their contracts with the Department of Social Protection state that they are not able to continue working until they are 70 years of age. An offer was made to them recently, which the unions are considering, but the feedback I am getting is not positive.

I fully support the Bill. Retired people should have a say in respect of their pension entitlements.

I thank An Teachta Bríd Smith for bringing forward this legislation. I, too, have been contacted by a large number of people who have been affected by the issue this legislation seeks to address. Tens of thousands of retired workers must be given a voice in pension disputes when changes are to be made to pension schemes. The current law prevents the voices of retirees from being heard when there are pension scheme negotiations, and they are limited in their ability to take their concerns to the WRC. Representative groups have tried unsuccessfully to address past grievances with the equality tribunal, the Ombudsman, industrial relations procedures and trustees of funds.

The Bill will guarantee one position on the boards of pension trustees to a representative of retired workers. When people are working, they have a voice through their trade unions. When they retire, however, they lose that voice, and that is not right. The Bill will give retired workers' associations the right to be consulted when talks between unions and employers may or could affect their pension.

Retired workers are not retired voters. The Government parties would do well to remember that. They should remember the fate of the Labour Party, which enabled Fine Gael to scrap the telephone allowance, worth €9.50 a month to older people, and the lower income threshold for medical cards for the over-70s. Most cruelly of all, they abolished the bereavement grant, which was worth €850. Talk about kicking people when they are down. The Government ignores older people at its peril.

I am glad to be able to make a statement on the Bill, essential legislation that will amend and extend the protections and rights of retired workers and certain representative associations in industrial relation matters. There are approximately 500,000 pensioners in the country and they are understandably very eager to see the legislation pass. This is not just about their rights, however, it is also about future generations, given that every worker will inevitably make the transition from current to former at some point in their lives. Pensioners are men and women who have given a life's work in our public, semi-State and private sectors. They are our mothers and fathers, our grandmothers and grandfathers and they have been given fewer rights to self-determine their incomes and livelihoods simply by virtue of their age.

We cannot expect generations to work hard and build a strong economy and society to the benefit of everyone, and then simply move the goalposts of what the fruit of that labour looks like. These people have worked hard all their lives with the intention of securing a firm pension and a stable retirement, only to find themselves precluded from making decisions that change the size and conditions of their pension funds. For many retirees, these pension funds are their sole form of income. That current workers can avail of the WRC services by filing a complaint or appeal about an industrial relations grievance, while pensioners cannot, is completely unacceptable. At present, only individual pensioners have access to any form of redress and that is only up to six months after they retire. The Bill will rectify this discrepancy and other anomalies in outdated legislation.

Occupational pensioners have up to now been completely at the mercy of changes made to their pension schemes, without an opportunity to sit at the decision-making table, an opportunity for self-representation in consultation procedures or an opportunity for recourse. This injustice is symptomatic of a wider cultural attitude of dismissiveness towards our ageing and elderly population. The elderly have, on more than one occasion, been first at the guillotine in the context of cost-cutting exercises relating to State services and welfare supports when austerity measures were cyclically introduced and the economy was struggling. That is totally unfair. There needs to be more balance between present and former workers' rights. We need to ensure retired workers will be respected to the same extent as current workers, even though their service has ended. The Bill is definitely a step in the right direction.

The aim of good government should be to formulate policies and legislation that are socially inclusive and based on the founding principle of social protection for every citizen on the island, while the basis of any pension system must be the same, that is, to sustain living standards and protect against poverty. It must be based on equality in closing the gender gap as part of any pension reforms. The Bill follows a simple universal rule, namely, that we should treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves. This is certainly not the case for those with a private or semi-State pension, for whom the mantra is "eaten bread is soon forgotten". Thousands of retired workers have given the best part of their lives to these companies, helping them to build and innovate for the future, yet at present they have no outlet for communication, no method of being represented, no input into negotiations and no say as to what happens to their pension schemes.

I have been contacted by many retired ESB workers who have experienced much the same treatment regarding their pension scheme. In fact, they have not received an increase since 2010. They, like other pensioners who worked for semi-States, have little or no say in the way in which their pension policies are developed or how they are communicated to. What is more, they have no say where fundamental changes to their pension schemes are adapted without their consent, yet these will have far-reaching implications for the retired workers and their families.

The keystone of the Bill is the right to equality whether inside or outside the labour market. It will give organisations representing retired workers the right to take their case to the WRC, along with extending the period in which cases can be taken by six months where a dispute has taken place as a result of proposed changes to their pension scheme. It will also provide for retired workers to have at least one representative on the boards of trustees of these companies.

I thank Deputy Bríd Smith and People Before Profit for bringing forward the Bill. It will strengthen the rights of retired workers, giving them a right to arbitration on the same footing as any employee. The Bill must be supported by everyone in the House. We all know how time flies. Some day, sooner or later, every one of us will be in the same boat.

I thank Deputy Bríd Smith for bringing forward the Bill. Like other Deputies, I have received many representations over the year regarding pensions and pension entitlements. The core issue for retired workers relates to where significant changes are made to the pensions of retired workers but those workers are unable to influence, and find it difficult to participate in, the decisions that affect them. I support the proposal to strengthen the rights of workers who have retired and their organisations and to provide that they be consulted when there are proposed changes to the scheme that will affect their lives. It is entirely reasonable to ask that organisations working on behalf of workers be permitted to take cases to the WRC, and that the period in which those cases can be taken will be extended to six months after a dispute has arisen rather than six months after the worker has retired. It is important that workers be part and parcel of pension schemes and that retired workers be encouraged and supported to become members of the boards of trustees.

I will finish with the words of Michael, who emailed me yesterday. His email struck a chord with me when I read it this morning. He wrote that he would like the Government to consider taking a decision and not to wait 12 months for the Bill to be voted on, given that retired workers cannot be represented by trade unions. He stated that such people do not have much time in their tanks and that while a further 12 months may seem a short time to some, it is a long time for retired folks. He went on to state that because they all still have votes, they can make a difference at the ballot box and may choose to vote for those who will protect their rights and not take them away. Obviously, Michael has on many occasions watched proceedings in the House and has recently seen the Government's tactic of accepting a proposal, letting it pass and claiming it agrees with it while, at the same time, kicking the can down the road.

Maybe they are thinking that the Government might not be here in 12 months either. Let us agree today to support these people who got up every morning of their working lives and who have paid their dues.. They are only looking for fairness and for a voice at the table when decisions are made about them and for them.

The Labour Party is supporting the Bill. We wonder why it is being kicked to touch for the period of time that is proposed by the Government, which is unnecessary. There is ample time to deal with all of the sections in the Bill through Committee Stage. Any of the concerns that have been raised by the Government, through the Minister of State, Deputy English, could be dealt with through the parliamentary process. This could be done in the normal course of events.

The Bill is worthy of support. It is measured and it simply gives retired workers access to the Workplace Relations Commission in situations where their pension scheme is being changed, which is not unreasonable. They currently have no representation. There is a definite gap in the law because it allows unscrupulous business owners to make millions in profit while leaving pension funds underfunded, which is one example.

We have met groups of public sector retirees who have very legitimate grievances. Older public sector workers did not pay regular PRSI and do not have an entitlement to the State pension, so they do not benefit from budget reviews and increases in the pension rate. Their public sector pensions do not rise with the cost of living so their value is being eroded. The pension funds were “raided” post-2008 and were never restored, which resulted in cuts in real terms to their pensions. While most of these cuts were restored, there was no compensation for the lost years and those on the highest pensions remain with lower pensions.

The retired semi-State staff association emerged from the post-2008 scenario when groups of retirees were encouraged to come together under one umbrella. Groups like that, which are supporting the promulgation of this legislation, have legitimacy. It is important to recognise the legitimacy of this cohort of people and all of the stakeholders who are supporting this Bill because they represent tens of thousands of workers. That needs to be acknowledged. As far as I can see, the large stakeholder grouping does not attach to one political party or ideological association and, in fact, I suggest that very many of these workers would have traditionally voted for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. That is why we feel strongly that the Bill should progress through the Dáil at this stage. This is a broad coalition of stakeholders that reflects what is happening in society. People have a real-time loss of income and they merely wish to have representation and for that representation to be recognised in law. That is not unreasonable.

Cynically, one could say that, like any issue that affects an historical cohort, there is a reflex within the Government and sometimes within the Civil Service, dare I say it, and I say it is a former Minister of State, to hold tight because the calculation is that this generation will pass on and, as the issue does not affect middle aged or younger people, the Government will try to put it on the long finger. I speak with objectivity because that is precisely what is happening with this legislation. It is being put on the long finger and it is a de facto attempt by the Government to kill it off in the long run. I do not think that is to anybody's benefit, particularly given the range and breadth of the stakeholder group that is involved in supporting the legislation. They are reflective of all sectors of society. We must always remember that the principle of intergenerational solidarity has to apply. There must be that solidarity between retired former workers and current workers, and this Bill seeks to support that principle.

We strongly support the Bill and we ask that the Government revise its decision to delay its passage. We ask the Government, in principle, to stop using this tool. It used to be the guillotine and now it is the six-month or 12-month delay tactic that is being used as the effective tool of Government to stymie legislation that is proposed by Members on the Opposition benches. To be frank, the tens of thousands of workers, who are watching these proceedings in the hope that the Government would at least allow the Bill to pass Second Stage and go to Committee Stage, so all of the issues raised by the Minister of State, Deputy English, can be addressed, see the tactic for what it is. Let us call a spade a spade: it is an attempt by the Government to kick the can down the line and kill it off, if it can. I do not think people will be too enamoured with Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party for employing this tactic. They will see it for what it is.

I thank Deputy Bríd Smith for her work on this Bill. The Social Democrats are very aware of the many groups and individuals who have worked over many years on the issues raised in the Bill. There are many organisations involved and they have made a very convincing case in regard to protecting their pension rights. It is very clear that the groups behind this Bill want to ensure that the voice of pensioners is heard loud and clear when decisions are made which affect pensioners. These groups and organisations represent a wide range of people from different sectors, and they have paid into pension schemes throughout their working lives.

In recent years, pensioners in receipt of occupational pensions have experienced the impact of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009, FEMPI. In many cases which have been highlighted, pensioners have not experienced the benefit of an increase in their pension for a decade or more. We have seen the closure of some occupational pension schemes, which has had a serious impact on people whose incomes were affected. These occupational pensions can be understood as deferred wages so, when a person’s income in retirement does not keep pace with what he or she expected, that person has a very legitimate grievance.

Currently, people with an issue relating to their pensions can use the offices of the Pensions Authority or the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman, but those options are only available to pensioners as individuals. What pensioners are seeking is an opportunity to have a seat at the table when decisions are being made which affect them collectively. Employers are very well used to the industrial relations machinery of the State, and the Workplace Relations Commission in particular. Employers, including the State, deal collectively with employees all of the time through negotiations with unions. Changes in terms and conditions, pay and other issues affecting working life are addressed at the Workplace Relations Commission, day in, day out.

Pensioners are looking for avenues to deal with their issues collectively. They want a seat at the table before decisions are made and an avenue to effectively pursue their grievances.

One of the issues the Social Democrats are particularly concerned about is that of pension provision for retired women. There is a huge amount of work to be done to rebalance the lives of women in retirement. Women who have been out of the workplace for a number of years often feel the impact of that on their income when they retire. Many women, particularly those in jobs and professions which are traditionally female-dominated, want to be in a position to seek fair pensions and proper income in retirement. This is an issue that transcends this Bill, but one successive Governments have refused to address.

The Bill before us would allow retired workers' organisations to be consulted when changes to members' pension schemes are proposed. It would allow these organisations to take cases to the WRC, and it would also strengthen the ability of retired members to become members of the board of trustees of pension schemes. It changes the definition of a trade dispute to include matters affecting retired workers' benefits under occupational pension schemes. The Social Democrats support this Bill and we appeal to all members to, at least, allow it to go forward to Committee Stage where the issues can be further teased out.

Pensioners have been under pressure. I will use this opportunity to raise a number of issues that are highly relevant and to which the Government needs to respond as a matter of urgency. The Social Democrats have pointed out that legislation to prevent employers who have adequate financial resources to meet the commitments in their occupational pension schemes from walking away is badly needed. We see the issues here in the context of pension justice. Pensioner poverty in general needs to be addressed. Fuel poverty blights far too many homes in Ireland. The level of pensioner poverty acceptable is zero. The budget this year will be an opportunity for the Government to address issues affecting pensioners.

I again pay tribute to the many groups and organisations that have supported this Bill and campaigned for it. I make it very clear that this is a cross-generational issue. We often hear terms like "pensions timebomb" or "pensions crisis". At times, there are attempts by commentators to pit one group in society against another. We cannot create a society of winners and losers. We have to acknowledge that solidarity across generations matters. There are many people of working age whose only income in retirement will be the State pension. The Zurich Life survey from 2020 showed the extent of the challenge in this area. Almost two thirds of those surveyed said they were concerned about not having enough money for their retirement. Irish Life figures in 2017 showed that just 46% of working adults had a company pension plan available to them. The workers of today are the pensioners of tomorrow. The pensioners of today are the workers of yesterday. Everyone in society has an interest in pensions justice.

The work being done by the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament and others is vital to protect the pension rights of all workers. As the representatives from the National Association of Pensioners, the Alliance of Retired Public Servants and the ESB Retired Staff Association so eloquently outlined in their presentation on the Bill yesterday, pensioners need channels to effectively address the myriad of issues that have arisen and are affecting their incomes. I hope the Government parties get this message loud and clear. On behalf of the Social Democrats, I thank Deputy Bríd Smith and the staff who worked with her in putting forward this Bill. The Social Democrats will be supporting it.

I am grateful for the opportunity to support this Bill which seeks to address an issue that potentially affects a large proportion of our population, especially those of a particular age. When people retire, particularly from large organisations in which there are many hundreds of employees, they can effectively become ghosts overnight. As long as they are still working, they have a voice, their grievances can be heard and they have avenues to challenge decisions that affect them, but once they retire they lose that voice. Decisions that can greatly impact on the quality of their lives can be made without any consultation with them. If they feel they have been wronged, they no longer have a platform to air that grievance and no opportunity to challenge those decisions. This must create a feeling of frustration and helplessness for people who may already be struggling with a different kind of life away from the workplace.

People on pensions also need security and to know that their income, which is much reduced from what they were taking home when working, will not be cut overnight, leaving them in financial difficulty with no means of making up that gap. In the past, I met the retired employees of the ESB in Galway whose pensions have been frozen for a dozen years, a decision in respect of which they were given no say when it was being made, and they still have no say in having that decision reversed. One of the men I met contacted me again recently and told me that he had paid pension contributions for the 43 years he had worked with the company and that his pension is now less than what it was 12 years ago when he retired. There are many others in similar situations, and in other organisations too. For example, last year hundreds of employees of Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority, lost a High Court challenge to cuts to their pensions. These are people who worked all of their lives and these decisions were taken without any reference to them. These decisions directly affect their standard of living. In the future, they must be given a voice in regard to changes to their pension conditions, in the same way as those who are still working have to be consulted in regard to proposed changes to their pay and conditions.

Last December, the Cabinet reversed pension cuts to retired Taoisigh, Ministers and senior civil servants who were in office during the financial crisis a decade ago. There is little chance of that happening for the retirees of the companies to which I referred. It is important that, into the future, people who retire have a say when it comes to decisions on reductions in their pensions. This Bill sets out to right a wrong that has existed for far too long and it has my support.

I thank and congratulate Deputy Bríd Smith on bringing forward this important Bill. Its provisions aim to correct some of the anomalies in current legislation by providing scope for redress to affected pensioners in the event of disputes arising or changes being made to their pensions. Currently, the trade union movement is prevented from representing pensioners as its remit is confined to workers. It is impossible to find any reference to pensioners in existing Industrial Relations Acts.

The retirees of the ESB and many other companies and organisations have been wronged over the years by the anomalies in existing legislation. I thank Deputy Bríd Smith for her time and effort in bringing this Bill before the Dáil. The Rural Independent Group will support the Bill in every way possible. We are all operating to a timeframe in this world. Every day that this change is not made is a robbery of those people who have served the country, be that retired ESB workers or any other workers. They worked hard and diligently all of their lives. It is now time to support them when they need help. The legislative changes that need to be made will have to be made and supported by every right-thinking person.

Kicking the can down the road with a proposal to vote on the issue in a year's time is nonsense.

In 2007, when Fianna Fáil and the Green Party were in government they wanted to raise the retirement age to 67 in 2021 and to 68 by 2028. The Fine Gael-Labour Party Government wanted to introduce this in 2011. There are people throughout this country of pensionable age who were not eligible for the €350 Covid-19 payment because they were self-employed.

The Rural Independent Group asked for the pension payment to the self-employed to be set at the same level as the Covid-19 payment everyone else was getting but the Government refused to do this. Self-employed people of pension age are still working because they have dependants to support. We have to support everybody. Pensions are being paid for by the next generation and the previous generation is now of pensionable age. We have to ensure everyone is looked after and receive the same benefits, regardless of whether they are over 65 years.

The pensionable age should be 65 years. Nobody should have to sign up for the jobseeker’s allowance at 65 years of age, having worked all of his or her life as it means the person has to be available for work. If people want to work longer, that is up to them but anyone who wants to retire at 65 years should be allowed to do so.

I thank Deputy Bríd Smith for bringing forward this very important Bill. As matters stand, pensioners have no rights to be included in negotiations. That is wrong. We need to ensure that people have an adequate and a fair pension when they reach 65 years of age. This has not been happening and pensioners have not had a voice.

We thank the former ESB workers who gave valuable service and came out in the dark of night and turned on the power. We also thank telecom and local authority workers. Going back in time, they came out when roads were blocked by trees across in the middle of the night. Now they are at a vulnerable stage and time is not on their side. I ask the Minister of State not to kick this any further down the road or delay because time is not on the side of these people.

The women of Ireland who raised the current generation have not been treated fairly or adequately with their pensions. Many people who gave their lives and showed such dedication have not been properly looked after.

In the case of forestry workers, I know well how hard they worked for Coillte and the State. Whether it was early or late, they worked from start to finish, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. They did not stop, even with midges and every other misfortune on top of them. They are appealing now for fair play and I am asking on their behalf that they be included and get their proper increases as they fall due.

The Deputy should mind the midges up there.

I fully agree and support this Bill. This Bill strengthens the rights of retired workers regarding their occupational pension schemes and covers issues arising from any proposed changes to these schemes after a worker has left the employment concerned and retired. The Bill does this by providing for retired workers' organisations to be consulted in the case of proposed changes to members' and pension schemes' entitlements and, further, to permit these organisations to take cases to the Workplace Relations Commission. The Bill also provides for the extending of the time to do this to six months from the date on which a dispute over proposed changes to pension entitlements has arisen, not the previous limit of six months from the time a member had retired from the workplace.

The Bill strengthens the ability of retired members to become members of the board of trustees. I fully support this provision. I also fully support the peaceful protesters outside the Dáil yesterday from the ESB, Bus Éireann and Coillte. Some Coillte employees are being greatly discriminated against in respect of their stamps A and B but I will concentrate now on the ESB. This company has been successful and profitable over the past ten years and more, with operating profits averaging €533 million per annum in that period. However, during this successful period, the ESB has consistently discriminated against pensioners, denied them a pension increase and pro rata representation on the governing bodies of the ESB pension scheme. It has ignored their right to representation in discussions that would affect their future financial security. These former workers have been denied voting rights on issues affecting them as pensioners and the ESB has ignored the fact that pensioners represent 71% of the total pension scheme membership.

Correspondence with successive Governments has fallen on deaf ears. Governments have lacked the political will to initiate change, introduce proper legal protection for pensioners and give them the representation rights they have earned throughout their working lives. All they are asking for is their rights to defend their pension entitlements once they retire and to be consulted on any change that may affect their financial pension scheme and future financial security.

I ask Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party not to kick the can down the road on this issue, as they have done already. We will know what their response is tonight.

With the permission of the House, I ask that the Rural Independent Group permit Deputy Tóibín to speak for four minutes. The Deputy missed his slot by seconds and we have time. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Gabhaim buíochas. I appreciate the forbearance of the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach and the Rural Independent Group. One of the problems here is that Government Deputies are not taking their slots, which has pushed back the slots for Opposition Deputies. As a result, the timing is very hard to manage.

Pensions should be sacrosanct in Irish society. Pensioners and people approaching pension age should have complete confidence in their pensions. Pensions are very important for a number of reasons. Typically, when people reach pension age their income is likely to fall, they will be under severe pressure and they need to have the confidence that allows them to live their lives to the full extent. The problem has been made worse in recent times because many people have plugged themselves into mortgages that extend beyond pension age. In addition, the housing crisis and the Government’s housing policies mean many people are now paying very high rents when they reach pension age.

Pension stability and confidence in pensions are very important. The fact that the Government has played politics with pensions in recent years is incredible. When the last crash happened, one of the first steps the Fianna Fáil and Green Party Government took was to raid pensioners' pockets in order to pay for the massive economic bill that arose. In the past year, we had an €18 billion giveaway budget and it is equally incredible that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party could not find as much as a tenner for pensioners.

In the next 40 years, we will see radical change in respect of the demographic structure of the State. What is never really discussed is the fact that productivity is rapidly increasing over time. While there are fewer people to pay for every pension, productivity levels are higher.

A report from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, in July 2020 showed there was a burgeoning crisis in respect of pension poverty in this State. The report detailed that when one looks at the household disposable income of those just about to reach pension age, between 50% and 60% are at risk of having an inadequate income in their retirement years. It sounds like something from the 1920s or 1930s that we live in a society in which people are facing the prospect of having an inadequate income in their golden years, the time they need it most. A major factor, according to the ESRI report, in being prepared for retirement in monetary terms was non-pension wealth, which includes cash savings, second homes, etc. How can working men and women be expected to amass non-pension wealth when the country is caught in an endless cycle of boom and bust? People are expected to provide extra income for themselves outside of what the Government is talking about but it is virtually impossible to do so.

Just under six in ten Irish workers have some form of pension supplementing the State’s PRSI pension. With more new homeowners opting for 34-year mortgages, it is very difficult to ensure that people have the right level of income. The Government has been talking about auto-enrolment pensions for some time. It is saying now that it will provide a contribution equal to 1.5% of salary, rising to 6% after ten years of work. I ask this Minister of State, as I have asked other Ministers previously, what progress has been made on that front.

On a final note, the Taoiseach said last week that the Government was putting in place incentives for elderly homeowners to downsize in order to free up homes for younger families.

Rather than building more homes to try to allow for younger families to get a roof over their heads, the Government is talking about pushing many pensioners out of their homes. Homes are more than just bricks and mortar for these pensioners. These homes are the places where their children were born, where the children grew up, where their memories are and where they have laid out loved ones who have died. They are exceptionally important places for these pensioners in their lives. In addition, those homes plug them into the communities that support them during their pension age. It is wrong for the Government to point the finger at pensioners for the housing crisis.

I thank Deputy Bríd Smith and People Before Profit-Solidarity for introducing this retired workers Bill. I am very pleased to support the legislation, which would represent an important change for the up to 500,000 retired workers in this country. Many workers have had detrimental changes made to their pension entitlements with little notice and no consultation. These changes could mean a cut to their pension entitlements, a freeze for up to ten years in some cases or the breaking of the link between pay and pension entitlement. For example, in 2013 An Post proposed new funding proposals for its scheme, which had a very significant deficit at the time. These proposals included a pension salary cap for class A PRSI staff. These were extremely complicated issues which could lead to lower pension payments for these retired members. Another issue is that the minimum of 30 days' notice was not given to the workers. When Aer Lingus was sold in 2014 and 2015, 600 workers on deferred pensions were set to lose out in a change from defined benefits to defined contributions. Those workers asked for €15 million from the sale to be donated to a fund for deferred pensions. They were ignored and some workers received cuts of 50% to 60% to their deferred pensions. Shamefully, those workers had to go to the point of bringing their case to the High Court. The case was heard last year and the judge made a decision that the pensioners' constitutional property rights were not breached by section 32B of the Air Navigation and Transport (Amendment) Act 1988 because reductions they complained of were made under amendments to the Pensions Act, which they had not challenged. No worker should have to go as far as the High Court to get his or her pension entitlement sorted out.

Pension schemes are complicated. You would need to be both an accountant and a lawyer to understand them and even then you might not fully understand them. An individual pensioner has not a hope. Pensioners need legislation to be able to employ those with the necessary skills to represent them. This is the first important change in the Bill. It would give pensioners' associations and organisations the same rights as employers and unions under the Industrial Relations Act. Such associations and organisations would be able to take cases relating to pensions to the WRC. Another important change proposed in the Bill is to the six-month time limit for a retired worker to bring a case to the WRC. The Bill clarifies the time from when the worker retired to six months from the time the pension dispute arose. The Bill will also allow the WRC to review codes of practice relevant to retired workers to take into account in such a review the position of retired workers' associations and organisations. Finally, the Bill makes provision to ensure that retired scheme members have strengthened rights when an election is to take place for two or more vacancies on the trustee board.

I ask the Minister of State not to delay this by 12 months. I ask him to bring this legislation into Committee Stage and to start the process and the consultation with the various groups concerned. This has been ten years in the making, during which time retired workers have sought changes in order that they have representation. These are the same workers who did not receive the PUP during the pandemic. There are also workers who do not have secure housing for older people. I ask the Minister of State and the Government not to press their amendment to the motion but rather to bring the Bill into Committee Stage.

I am especially pleased to speak on this Bill and to support it. I thank Deputy Bríd Smith and all the organisations that worked on the Bill. There are many reasons to support the Bill but I will highlight two. First, this legislation would give a group of retired workers some rights when it comes to making decisions relating to their pensions. As one person who emailed me said, the Bill is not revolutionary but will go some way towards correcting a historical injustice to thousands of retired workers. It will give them a voice at the table. As she said, they are asking for a right to be consulted, a right to representation and a right to be at the table when decisions are taken about their pensions. These are very reasonable asks and, as my correspondent said, are not revolutionary.

The second reason I am especially pleased to get the opportunity to speak on the Bill is that this very same issue was raised with me when I was a Member of the European Parliament. Despite my tabling questions to the Commission and checking the legislation, there was and is no European legislation that would cover this situation specifically. Of course, one of the main reasons for that is that member states organise their own pension systems, and that is the case in the context of what we are speaking about today. While there is some European legislation that protects the rights of citizens if they move from one member state to another; while we have legislation that was enacted this year on what we call institutions for occupational retirement provision, IORP, schemes; and while I was really pleased to have an opportunity to have an influence on that legislation, on this issue I could do nothing. From a personal perspective, therefore, I am pleased Deputy Bríd Smith has brought forward this legislation, which seeks to address this specific issue and I am delighted to get an opportunity to speak to it.

An astonishing number of people have had their legitimate expectations whipped from under their noses and they stand powerless because they have no say and no way of influencing or making any changes. That is wrong, and this Bill sets out to right that wrong. I see the Government is not opposing it. That is positive and shows that this legislation is needed and that a historic injustice needs to be addressed. However, 12 months is far too long because this situation has pertained for far too long, with some workers having seen a reduction of over 20% to their pensions, some seeing their pensions frozen for 14 years. This is an urgent matter and needs to be dealt with urgently. It is a fairly simple, straightforward proposal and, like any proposal, could benefit from amendments, but that is not an issue. What we want to see is that pensioners can get their rights and that as citizens - they are no longer workers - they cannot be subject to unilateral action on their pensions where they have no voice and no say. As I said, while I accept the Government is not opposed to this legislation, if a situation is wrong and discriminatory, then kicking the can down the road will make it worse. Action is needed now.

I thank all the contributors to the debate. I am sorry I had to step out for some of it. I did not get to hear all the speeches but I did hear the ones at the start. I have an understanding of what the Deputies are trying to achieve with the legislation and I accept that it is a genuine effort. Others made speeches that covered a wide range of areas but did not focus on the legislation or the situation that as a Government we are trying to deal with. That is why we have asked for time in the amendment to consider the technicalities of this and the processes involved. As usual, however, the debate went in different directions. On that, I need to correct Deputy Tóibín. He is trying to cause another concern for older people. What the Taoiseach said last week was that many people are not in appropriate houses that suit their needs as they get older and that there is an opportunity to provide them with more suitable houses. I would use the term "right-sizing".

Much work was done on that by the last Government across different Departments, supported by many in this House, of an approach that first tries to keep people in their existing home, where possible. There are supports, grants, and other structures available to achieve that. For others, it is a better outcome to move into a more appropriate house that is designed for their needs, that has security, and so on. That has worked extremely well, because many housing associations and groups of people have come together all over the country and brought forward some lovely proposals. The Taoiseach referred to the opportunity to do more of that. That is what we want to do. It is not true to say that the Taoiseach wants to force anybody out of his or her house, or that he blames any older or ageing person for the housing crisis. It is unfair to say that in this House, but it is typical of the Deputy, who tries to cause consternation over something that is not true. However, we need to have a genuine and focused conversation on the needs of people who are ageing, on where they want to live, and on where they hope to live in the future. We recognise it is getting more costly if you do not own our own home. Some 85% of people in that age brackets own their own homes, but a high percentage does not. It can be difficult if rents are high. It is important that the State is involved in the provision of housing for those who are ageing. That is what the work has been about over the last couple of years.

I touched on some of the concerns the Government has with the Bill earlier and I went through them in detail. I was genuinely trying to set out some of our concerns and the work that needs to be done over the next six to 12 months. That is why we asked for a time amendment on this. I accept there is a genuine effort in this legislation to deal with the concerns of people who were protesting yesterday and who have been engaging with us over the last couple of years.

Apart from some of the issues that I mentioned earlier on, the Private Members' Bill seems to accept the premise that pension rights are somehow exposed or at risk simply because they are not covered by industrial relations processes. This is far from true. Accrued pension entitlements represent property rights. Members of occupational pensions schemes already have available to them a range of recourses to vindicate their pension rights, for example, under relevant provisions of the Pensions Act 1990 or through the offices of the Pensions Authority and the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman of Ireland, FSPO. It is incorrect to assert that there are no avenues of redress for people who are in receipt of pensions.

Pension scheme trustees must act in the best financial interest of all scheme members, whether active, deferred or retired, and I made this point earlier. They must serve all beneficiaries of the scheme impartially. Trustees must always be consulted if a collective agreement refers to a pension matter. Furthermore, section 9 of the Bill proposes that retired workers' representative associations be permitted to refer trade disputes to the commission or the court, and that such representative associations be exempted from the requirement to hold a negotiating licence. In this case, the proposition is that representative associations of retired workers would be exempted from meeting the standards applied to those organisations representing workers themselves. This would be divisive and would potentially lead to claims for variation of the requirements governing negotiating licences.

A large proportion of the Irish workforce has no occupational pension. This is especially the case for younger people working in the private sector. The Government is trying to remedy this situation through a new auto-enrolment system. We must carefully consider whether a legislative proposal of this nature is the correct way of addressing the mischiefs and the concerns that Deputy Bríd Smith stated are the objectives of her Bill.

As I mentioned earlier, I have been informed that the proposed amendment to section 10 would not be of particular relevance to a large number of pension schemes. The majority of defined contribution schemes are unlikely to have pensioner members in such schemes. Members at retirement generally use their accumulated funds to buy an annuity or transfer to an approved retirement fund, ARF, and once this has been done the retiring member is no longer a member of the scheme. We might not, therefore, be able to reach all those the Bill intends to reach.

Pensioner benefits are already prioritised where a scheme restructuring occurs, with changes introduced in 2013 providing for 100% protection to pensions in payment of €12,000 or less; 90% priority given to pensions between €12,000 and €60,000; and 80% protection to pensions over €60,000. The 2013 changes were designed to spread the risk of scheme under-funding to all scheme member cohorts and to ensure a more equitable sharing of scheme resources, where restructuring is required, while still providing for significant protections to pension benefits already in payment.

Finally, the amendment proposed by section 10 may relate to a perceived lack of ability of pensioner members to engage with trustees and employers in the context of any changes to pension benefits payable from a scheme. However, this perception is incorrect. Where a restructuring of benefits is proposed, the employer and the trustees of a pension scheme are required to notify scheme members, beneficiaries, and authorised trade unions. Changes made to the Occupational Pension Schemes (Sections 50 and 50B) Regulations 2015 require trustees to also notify groups representing the interests of pensioners and deferred scheme members in these situations. This affords the representative groups an opportunity to make a submission to the trustees of a pension scheme in advance of any proposed changes taking effect.

These changes facilitate engagement between groups representing the interests of pensioner and deferred scheme members, the Pensions Authority, and the trustees of a person scheme. Specifically, before the trustees of a scheme make a section 50 application to the Pensions Authority, which could involve reductions to pension payments payable under a scheme, they must consult with the employer, the scheme member, pensioners and the authorised trade union representing members. Trustees must undertake a comprehensive review of the scheme, with a view to the long-term stability and sustainability of the scheme.

I am aware that Deputy Bríd Smith indicated her willingness to engage on constructive amendments. As I said earlier, the Government is committed to examining this Bill in closer detail. I am happy to have those conversations with Deputy Bríd Smith and others who are genuinely concerned and want to bring forward changes in this space.

As part of this process, there will be a consultation process with the other relevant Departments, the unions, employer bodies and, of course, the people themselves who are concerned. I thank Deputies for their contributions here today and I look forward to engaging with them further on this matter in due course in the months ahead.

Anois, People Before Profit-Solidarity to reply. Deputy Gino Kenny has five minutes and Deputy Bríd Smith has five minutes.

I will probably use three minutes.

First, I commend the retired workers we met yesterday outside the gates of Leinster House. There was a whole plethora of workers from semi-State, State and the private sector. They gave their working lives, not only to their families and their companies, but to the State. These workers were well-organised, in the great spirit of the trade unionism. They were the people my parents grew up to admire and who stand shoulder to shoulder in the workplace. That is the spirit of trade unionism, of sticking with each other and of solidarity.

The substantial issue is that this is their money. They should have a say in a pension fund that is kept aside for the future date when they retire. Some of these workers do not get any State pension and are reliant on this occupational scheme for their income.

This Bill provides that they will be consulted in regard to any change. It seems democratic and simple, but that is obviously not the case. We have a situation where former Ministers get very handsome pensions. However, if there was a situation where their pensions went down or they were not consulted, they would be up in arms. Some of the pensions Ministers have gotten are absurd. It is quite sickening. Some of them are on €160,000 per year. Some of the pension payments Deputies get are unbelievable, while working people, who have worked for decades, are on a very ordinary pension. This Bill wants to change that.

The spirit of the Bill is in the great tradition of decent pay and conditions. It is for the future generation. There are people who do not think of their futures in terms of pensions. That is the key issue. This generation wants to look out for the next generation in the case of pensions, the provision of pensions and democratic control around their money. We have to think about this. It is their money that they have worked so hard for but they do not have a say. In the spirit of democracy, trade unionism and of workers sticking together, it is imperative this Bill goes through without the amendment.

I want to respond to some of the things in the Minister of State’s initial speech. First, what jumped out at me more than anything else was the expression “retired persons”. He referred at least ten times in his speech to “retired persons”. Once or twice, when he was not reading it, he said “retired workers”.

However, when the Minister of State said "retired persons", I was asking myself what they are retired from. There is a claim there is some ill-defined category of "retired workers". They have retired from work. They worked all their lives, so they are retired workers. Legal minds the Minister of State deals with may cause a row over that, but they are not retired persons, they are retired workers.

This is why they want their voices heard as they face, and have faced for the past ten years, major attacks on their standard of living through cuts, the Government bailing out the banks and all sorts of measures which have been taken against their schemes and their voices cannot be heard. The Minister of State maintains it is adequate for them to go to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman or the Pensions Authority but they have learned from hard experience that this is not sufficient. It does not do the trick. What they need is their voice at the table at the WRC. The Minister of State then stated that to give them a right to the WRC may have unintended consequences but they have that right for six months, albeit only for six months, after a change is made.

The Minister of State acknowledges the right for six months and then withdraws it. He is refusing to say that right should be more than just the six months' limit put on it. Retired public servants, civil aviation workers, ESB workers, CIÉ workers , An Post and Bord na Móna workers, retired RTÉ staff and semi-State staff, workers in this House, teachers, nurses, Eircom workers and the port and docks workers - you name it - are the people, as has been said repeatedly by Deputies in this House, who have built this country.

I thank all of the Opposition Deputies for their support and contribution. However, the Minister of State's speech has been littered with inaccuracies and evasions and is a complete slap in the face for retired workers, especially the amendment which states the Government will deal with this in 12 months, following consultation with the Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Social Protection and Public Expenditure and Reform, with unions, employers, IBEC and industrial relations bodies, but nowhere does the Minister of State intend to consult with the very people this Bill is about. The retired workers and their associations are deliberately excluded from the Minister of State's amendment and it is wholly insulting.

I will talk briefly about the gilt-edged pensions about which Deputies Gino Kenny and Barry and others Deputies spoke. The Minister of State and I can retire on a guaranteed pension that will be perceived by most of the population as being gilt-edged but former taoisigh and Ministers are on massive pensions. For what? What did they retire from? If workers did not retire from work and are not retired workers, just retired persons in the Minister of State's legal empire, what did these other renowned people retire from for them to deserve so much money from the public coffers on an annual basis?

There are technical arguments and unintended consequences, according to the Minister of State, but this Bill was produced after extensive consultation, which lasted two years, with experienced legal experts in the field of employment law from the OPLA. I thank them for all their hard work. Any issues the Minister of State, trade unions or IBEC have can be dealt with on Committee Stage and we are wide open to amendments to this Bill. However, the core principle of this proposal is the right of retired workers' organisations to be consulted prior to changes in their pension schemes and to be able to take a case to the WRC without the current restrictions.

Would it allow former workers to picket their workplace? No. We met the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and explained this to them. It does not change the definition of a strike or allow former workers to put pickets on their workplace. Some may say that is a pity. Nevertheless, it does not do it and I want to reassure the Minister of State and anybody else that this is the case. This Bill will not address the systemic attack on pensions but will give retired workers, not retired persons, a voice and the right to representation and for their associations to represent them. After a lifetime of work and building this society and the trade unions of which they were members, surely that is the least they deserve.

While retired workers rights have been attacked in recent years, younger workers also find themselves paying more into schemes and getting less in return. Here is an interesting statistic I got back in a parliamentary question. Between 2011 and 2018, retired public sector workers saw the State take more than €700 million directly from their pensions. In the same period, their working colleagues, who remained in their jobs and had not yet retired, paid an extra €2 billion in pension contributions for reduced benefits on retirement.

There is a scam here. There is a huge anomaly in terms of the right to representation and this flies in the face of European law to allow retired workers a voice. The attempt by the Government to kick this can down the road is not only insulting, it is unrealistic. People in their 70s and 80s have fought hard for the past ten years to get this Bill before the Dáil and now the Government is saying they cannot have it and it is kicking it down the road and will talk to everybody but not them or their associations. That has to be explained. If Members from the Green Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael vote to kick this down the road, they will feel the consequences. This will not be because I say so but because these retired workers tell me so.

It has been a pride and privilege to work with those people, their associations and with the senior citizens' parliament and Age Action Ireland, which is also backing this proposal. That is a huge cohort of citizens in this country who do use their votes, unlike younger people who tend to be in the lesser-voting category. The Government should be mindful of that. That is not to threaten the Government but to try to put leverage on it to say please give retired workers the chance to have this Bill go to Committee Stage, where it can be scrutinised and amended.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed to the weekly division time this evening.