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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 19 Jul 1950

Vol. 38 No. 8

National School Teachers' Superannuation (Amendment) Scheme, 1950—Motion.

I move:—

That the National School Teachers' Superannuation (Amendment) Scheme, 1950, made by the Minister for Education, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, be confirmed.

The principal object of the amending scheme which the Seanad is now being asked to confirm is to introduce improved superannuation terms for national school teachers following on the proposals which the Government made last September to the teachers' organisation. Particulars of these proposals were, I think, circulated to Senators early in October, 1949.

It had then been intended that the new salary scales and pension terms should come into operation from the 1st April, 1950, and that women teachers should receive different pension conditions from those to be accorded to men. It was subsequently arranged, however, that the new scales and superannuation conditions would take effect as from the 1st January, 1950, and in the interval it has, I am glad to say, been found possible to agree that both men and women teachers shall have the same retiring terms, namely, first, annual pension based on 1/80th of average annual salary for each year of pensionable service up to a maximum of 40/80ths; secondly, a lump sum on retirement calculated at the rate of 1/30th of average annual salary for each year of pensionable service up to a maximum of 45/30ths; and thirdly, in the case of those who die in the service after five years' pensionable service, a death gratuity payable to their legal personal representatives amounting to the teacher's average annual salary or a sum calculated at the rate of 1/30th for each year of pensionable service up to a maximum of 45/30ths, whichever is the greater.

The original proposal was that women teachers should not receive a lump sum, but that their pension should be calculated on the basis of 1/60th for each year of pensionable service up to a maximum of 40/60ths. The superannuation schemes in force up to now provide a pension of 1/80th for both men and women teachers with no lump sum in either case and a death gratuity not exceeding the average annual salary.

I think I can safely say that the terms now being introduced will be generally welcomed by the teachers. As regards the Order itself, paragraphs 1 to 4 are of the usual introductory character. In addition, however, to bringing the scheme into effect from the 1st January, 1950, paragraph 2 provides specifically that those teachers who may have retired on pension since that date shall have the benefit of the new terms.

Paragraph 5 indicates the classes of teachers to whom this scheme applies. They are briefly: All teachers actually serving on the 1st January last or who enter the service for the first time after that date; and teachers who may not have been teaching on the 1st January, 1950, but were not then more than one year out of the service and were not on pension on that date.

Sub-section (d) of paragraph 5 provides that teachers who were already on pension on the 1st January, 1950, and who come back to the service after that date, or those who were more than a year out of the service, and then reenter, cannot receive the new terms on subsequent re-retirement unless they shall have completed three years' pensionable service after the 1st December, 1949. This restriction is intended to ensure that such persons cannot qualify for the new and greatly improved terms by coming back merely to teach for a nominal or brief period. When I speak of those who had retired before the 1st January last subsequently re-entering the service, I have in mind, of course, those who had retired, and come back, before the age of 65 years.

Paragraph 6 of the scheme provides for the payment of lump sum to both men and women on the lines I have already indicated.

Paragraph 7 improves the conditions for the payment of disablement gratuity to teachers who are compelled to retire owing to ill-health and who cannot qualify for a disability pension because they have not ten years' pensionable service. At present the gratuity is at the rate of one-tenth of pensionable salary for each year of pensionable service, but this scheme provides for calculation at the rate of one-twelfth of pensionable salary for each year of pensionable service with the important addition, for those who have not less than two years' pensionable service, of one-thirtieth of pensionable salary for each year of pensionable service. Should any existing teacher on the 1st January, 1950, be compelled to retire before he or she has completed two years' pensionable service, sub-paragraph (2) of paragraph 7 preserves his right to the existing basis of calculation of one-tenth.

Paragraph 8 deals with the death gratuity on the basis I mentioned in my opening statement. Sub-paragraph (2) provides, as is the practice in official pension schemes where a lump sum is payable, that, if a teacher who has received a lump sum on retiring voluntarily or owing to disability, comes back into the service, he is not required to refund the lump sum but, should he die in the service, the death gratuity shall be reduced by the amount of the lump sum. Sub-paragraph (3) merely provides that lump sum shall be regarded as a pension benefit. Under the schemes as they existed up to now a pensioner might die before the amount of pension drawn by him had equalled the amount of death gratuity payable in respect of him had he died in the service; in such event there was provision to pay him the difference between the two amounts. No pensioner who retires on these new terms can receive less after retirement than if he had died in the service and the paragraph makes it clear that the lump sum paid to him is to be reckoned for this purpose as pension.

Paragraph 9 improves the conditions for the payment of marriage gratuity to women teachers who are compelled, under the regulations, to retire on marriage. At present a woman must have seven years' service of which at least five must be pensionable, to qualify for a gratuity and the gratuity is calculated at the rate of 1/12th of average annual salary for each year of pensionable service. Under the new scheme, a teacher can qualify for the gratuity after six years' service instead of seven, of which at least four must be pensionable instead of five, and the amount of the gratuity will continue to be calculated at the rate of 1/12th of average annual salary for each year of pensionable service with this difference however that the first year will also be included. The gratuity may not, however, exceed one year's salary.

Paragraph 10 enables applicants for a disability pension or gratuity to be required to deposit the medical referee's fee, the fee to be returned if the application is successful. The provision is precautionary lest it should be found by experience that applications of this kind were being made on insufficient grounds thereby causing waste of time and money; I do not say that it will be necessary to enforce the requirement.

Paragraph 11 gives full effect to an intention which was not completely achieved when paragraph 7 of the 1948 scheme provided that service given by a teacher after reaching the age of 65 should be non-pensionable. Even though the service itself was not pensionable it was possible under the 1947 scheme, in view of the definitions attaching to the words "retirement" and "average annual salary," for a period of service given after the age of 65 to be reckoned in the computation of salary for the purpose of the calculation of pension or other benefits. This paragraph now ensures that service after 65 shall not either be pensionable or have the effect of increasing the amount of pension or lump sum.

I ask the Seanad to confirm the scheme.

The proposal now before us marks the end of a campaign which has been carried on by the teachers, through their organisation, for almost 70 years, that is, a campaign for a pension scheme which would be comparable to that paid to others in the public service. Senators may remember that during the strike period of 1946 one of the strongest arguments put forward at that time was the argument that the national teachers' pensions were the least favourable of those paid to anybody in the public service, either civil servants or the servants of local authorities. Generally, anybody who occupied a public position received by way of pension either two-thirds of his retiring salary or half of his retiring salary plus a lump sum. This agitation for the lump sum for the teachers was one that I personally was connected with for over 30 years. I take the liberty of saying that I am pleased now to have the privilege of assisting at its implementation here to-night. As I say, up to this time teachers received only half of their retiring salary, calculated on the last three years of their service, without any lump sum. Now they are getting a lump sum as well. I am specially pleased to note that the same conditions apply in the case of women teachers as in the case of men teachers. That was always the position so far as the teachers were concerned: men and women received the half of their salary as pension, that is, after the full 40 years' service. However, in the communication that was sent last November intimating the decision of the Government following the Roe Report it was proposed not to give the lump sum to the women teachers but rather two-thirds of their retiring salary. It is stated that the lump sum provision and the two-thirds of salary on retirement are actually equal. However, there can be no doubt, I think— certainly there is no doubt in my mind —that it is preferable when a teacher or any public servant retires that he should get a lump sum—which is equivalent to at least a year's salary and sometimes more—at that particular time. It will help to ease the break from full salary to half salary. I am very glad indeed that this proposal is before us to-night. I should like to congratulate the Minister and the Government and all concerned on making this—I will not call it a concession—full instalment, practically, of justice.

But anything, of course, no matter how good it may be, can never reach perfection, and there are a few matters in this connection that I regret to see missing from this proposal. The first is the question of the old pensioners— the teachers who retired on pension before the operative date set out in this proposal, namely, those who retired before 1st January, 1950. It seems a hard thing indeed to say that if a teacher retired on 31st December, 1949, he gets as a pension all his life, no matter how long he may live, only half of his retiring salary while, if he could have retired on the following day, that is, on 1st January, 1950, he would get not only half his retiring salary as pension but also a lump sum equivalent to a year's salary or perhaps more than that. I know it will be pointed out that we must begin somewhere and that there must be some line at which we should begin. However, I think this is a case to which that argument does not apply, certainly not as strongly as it might in other cases; there are precedents for giving to retired teachers the same privileges as are given to existing teachers. The precedent was created in 1914 when the new pensions scheme was introduced by the British Government and the advantages which the existing teachers got were given to those who had retired.

We must remember that there are not so very many individuals concerned, comparatively speaking, and they will be a gradually reducing number. It would have rounded off this proposal very much if those who had retired before 1st January last were given the benefit of this concession. Very sound arguments have been put before the Minister, and I do not want to go into them now in any great detail. They have been put by the National Teachers' Organisation and by the Pensioned Teachers' Organisation and the Minister knows what they are. The answer may be that it would cost too much, but in Budgets of £70,000,000, £80,000,000 or £100,000,000, the few hundred thousands necessary to give these pensioned teachers this benefit and make their years of retirement more pleasant than they now can possibly be, would not be, I think, too much to grant.

I ask the Minister to look into this matter again. I know he is anxious to do what he can. He has done a very big amount in so far as his efforts to create good feelings and relations between the teachers and himself are concerned, and I must congratulate him on that. I hope this matter that I am referring to will be reconsidered by the Government in the near future.

There was another demand put forward by the teachers, and I think there was much justification for it. That was that instead of calculating the pensions on the average of three years' salary, it should be calculated on the final year of service. There are precedents for that, too, in the Civil Service, especially when there is a promotion or an increase in salary. That was pressed for by the teachers' organisation. The point is that the teacher does not get half of his retiring salary as pension.

One of the recommendations by the Roe Commission had reference to certain teachers who were non-pensionable before 1934 and whose service prior to that year counts only to the extent of two-thirds of that service. The service given since 1934 counts in full, but the service before 1934 does not count in full for pension purposes. The reason why they did not get the full service was because they did not pay pension premiums prior to that date. The Roe Commission recommended that they should be given an opportunity of repaying as much as would compensate for the missing third, with compound interest, and in these circumstances they considered they would be entitled to full service. I do not know if the Government considered that point, but I trust the Minister will look into it.

These teachers were mainly engaged in convent schools or they served as junior assistant mistresses. The pension was introduced for them in 1934, but they did not get the full service at that time for pension purposes. I know some of them are willing to pay the premiums which would compensate for the missing third, with compound interest, and they expect they should have their full service allowed for pension purposes.

There are quite a number—not a large number, but still quite a few— who for one reason or another had to serve in a non-pensionable capacity for a number of years. Some served in convent schools as supernumeraries and some in other capacities and although they gave full service they were not paid direct by the Department and their service does not count for pension. In the middle thirties, Senators will remember, there was a large surplus of teachers who were unable to find permanent employment; they had to serve in various temporary capacities and they lost a number of years for pensionable service. Naturally, they claim that that service, which was given for the benefit of the community, should not be disregarded for pension purposes because it did not happen that they were paid by the Department direct.

I welcome this proposal very sincerely and I am glad to see it implemented here. I am glad the disability terms and the marriage allowance terms are likewise improved. I have no doubt that, as the Minister said, the proposal will be received with gratification by the teachers who have been looking forward so long to having their pensions raised to the level of those payable in other branches of the public service.

I feel that everybody will join with Senator O'Connell in congratulating the Minister on having introduced this scheme, and thanking him on behalf of the country for doing it. It pays a debt which the country owes to the national teachers by bringing their superannuation rights and gratuities into line with those of other servants of the public.

I was somewhat amazed when I heard Senator O'Connell begin by saying that it was the end of the agitation, but, when he went on with his speech, it was evident that it was not the end, and that there are still a few things to be settled up with reference to those teachers who retired before 1950. I think, like the teachers in Northern Ireland, they should get not only the improved pension terms which have recently been granted, but they should also be given the gratuities now accorded to their younger comrades.

No matter how stringent our financial position may be, I think we must recognise the work these teachers have done and we must also recognise that for a long time they were underpaid, underpaid to such an extent that it constituted a disgrace. The pensions that were based on this underpayment were really a shame. The pensioned teachers certainly had a sound claim for better treatment and we are glad that their grievances have been to some extent remedied and that some of the wrong that has been done is being repaired. Perhaps the Minister could now approach the Minister for Finance and induce him to give gratuities to all pensioned teachers, as is done in Northern Ireland.

I am particularly interested in the case of women teachers who were obliged to retire at 60. That was a very hard thing in the case of many women teachers. It is hard on anyone at the age of 60, who is perfectly qualified to continue her service, to have to retire. But the hardship is increased by the fact that compulsory retirement at 60 made it impossible for many of them to have the necessary years for full pension. I know one old woman who was an M.A. and "highly efficient", and others also, who had to retire before getting the full pension. That was a grave injustice as between women and men, for the latter could stay on to 65. The Minister would get a great deal of support from all the women if he would persuade the Minister for Finance to include such women in the gratuity scheme. It would be an act of justice and I commend it to him as a conscientious individual.

As one of the rank and file of the profession that has been so generously provided for now in the new pensions scheme introduced by the Minister, I would like wholeheartedly to endorse the remarks of Senator O'Connell in his comments on the terms of the scheme announced by the Minister. For many years, Senator O'Connell ably piloted various measures brought before different Governments by the I.N.T.O. for the benefit of the profession and I would like to take this opportunity, as a teacher, to say how much I appreciate his actions and leadership during a long and troublesome period. When all is said and done, as has been pointed out quite often, the national teachers are responsible for the education of the children of 90 per cent. of the people of the State. It was neither fair nor equitable that they should be left so long in what was often called the "Cinderella of the professions." Since the present Minister assumed office, he has unostentatiously gone out of his way, in the matter of emoluments for retired teachers neglected for years, to meet the reasonable demands of the profession. As one of that profession in this Assembly, I would like to put on record my appreciation, on behalf of my colleagues and myself.

With Senator O'Connell, I deplore that some of the veterans, who served in many campaigns and some of whom suffered the scars of battle, have not been brought within the provisions of this very generous and liberal pension scheme. Senator O'Connell has pointed out certain defects and I will not dilate further on them. I am quite satisfied, from what the Minister has already done, that he is quite prepared to do even more, when and if the opportunity offers. I speak on behalf of many teachers, whom I meet from time to time, in appreciation of what has been done, and we all hope that we may always prove worthy of it, in so far as our work as teachers is concerned.

I have had a great interest in this matter for many years and I was glad to hear Senator O'Connell say that he appreciated what the Minister is doing now. I am sure the teachers generally will appreciate it, knowing what a long period of agitation and failure there has been in this regard. This Order before us is the third step taken by the present Government with regard to teachers' pensions. Teachers benefited to some degree from the general Pensions (Increase) Act, 1949, and they benefited also by an Order made by the Minister previously in 1949 to the extent of something like £135,000 in all. This is the third step and, as has been pointed out, it is not a perfect step.

The teachers are in the peculiar position that great complexities and anomalies are involved. They are not the employees of the State: they are appointed by the managers, but paid by the State. For that reason, and because of various historical circumstances, there are anomalies, such as those to which Senator O'Connell referred, which could not all be corrected together. This is an immense step forward. I would like to see teachers who retired before 1st January, 1950, benefit, but while my sympathy is with those teachers I have also a great deal of sympathy with the Minister for Education, as I had experience myself of the difficulties of a Minister in coping with the Minister for Finance. I do not want to depict the Minister for Finance as an ogre. As far as he is concerned, everybody's goose is a swan and his business is to prove that it is not a swan at all but a goose. It should be understood by people who want everything done at once that a very great amount has been done in the last two and a half years by the Minister for Education—a great deal more than was done in 30 previous years and certainly more than was done in the previous 26 years of native Government, with regard to teachers. Any Minister, and particularly the Minister for Education, has difficulties to encounter with his colleagues and with his Government in getting his own particular scheme preferred to the various other schemes, all of importance and all very ardently put forward by other Ministers. While my sympathy is with people who do not come under this, that should not blind us to the fact that it is a very great achievement and the third step that has been taken with regard to pensions of national teachers. That fact should be remembered.

I wish to thank the Senators for their very generous references to what we are trying to do for the teachers, by way of pension and lump sum. If it has been possible in the last couple of years to do as much as has been done, by improving scales and pensions, I think it has only been possible to do it because of the increasing public opinion regarding the importance of education and the function of the teacher in relation to the general work of the country.

It was not at all with a sense of security, I can assure Senator Mrs. Concannon, that I heard her reference to Senator O'Connell's mention that this was the end of a fight. It will never end. General public appreciation of the function of the teacher and of the importance of education in the modern world is growing and I have found that atmosphere very helpful in dealing with some of the financial points that arise in regard to teachers' problems.

Senator Hayes has indicated, in regard to some of the old teachers, that certain assistance has been given in various ways to those who retired before 1946, under the general Pensions Act, and between 1946 and January, 1950, under the pensions scheme of 1948. Senator Mrs. Concannon refers to certain things done in Northern Ireland. When I looked for information as to what it would cost to do here what was done in Northern Ireland, I did not believe the figures I got and I will quite appreciate the position if Senators do not exactly believe them either. To do what the Senator asks for the older teachers would cost between £750,000 and £1,000,000.

Entirely for lump sum. The Irish National Teachers' Organisation have been a little more modest and what they have asked for would cost only something like £430,000. When you consider that the general scheme which it has been possible to introduce for improving the salaries and pensions only comes to £750,000 a year—I am sure the Minister for Finance, or the Treasury as a corporate body, would be shocked by the word "only"—you can see how comparatively great such an amount would be to deal with old pension questions.

When I was dealing with the 1948 scheme I think I pleaded that in the difficulties and problems with which one has to deal there are problems of to-day and to-morrow and it cripples one completely in one's efforts if one has to take the burdens of yesterday also on one's shoulders. When the general matter of these pensions and salaries was being investigated no consultation or discussion that could in any way be reasonably carried out with the teachers' representatives was avoided. The scheme was not ultimately put into its final shape without a consultation between the representatives of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, the Taoiseach, and certain members of the Cabinet.

In so far as discussion and review of the situation were concerned we went the full length of the road and we were restricted only by the difficulty of finding finance. It is all very well to hold up the Minister for Finance as the villain of the piece. But the Minister for Finance is just like anybody else; he deals with certain circumstances and he has no more control over the winds and the waves than has the farmer when he is doing his particular job. He cannot always command a certain set of circumstances and, therefore, so far as the older pensioners are concerned, I have not been able to include anything additional for them in the present scheme.

With reference to basing pensions on an average of three years, I cannot say that the scheme is completely logical in that respect. It is not on a par with the Civil Service but, in the actual ultimate working out of the scheme as the years go on, it will have the particular effect desired. I admit that will be the remnant of the fight that has still to go on. I can see it disappearing. Certainly more awkward things have disappeared within the last few years.

I dealt before with the pre-1934 position—that is the position of people who were non-contributory and who had no pension rights at all prior to 1934. They were granted two-third rights when the non-contributory scheme was brought into operation. In respect of these pre-1934 years, which were not pensionable but have been made pensionable since, I do not think it would ever be possible to go back and make those years fully pensionable now. On the question of the 1930 teachers and certain last years, I have to confess that when studying the history of educational happenings I missed that point. But I imagine again——

You will hear about it.

I imagine again that that is one of those things that come out of the past. With the number of things that one has to deal with at the present time it is very difficult to believe that one can deal with them. I appreciate the generous references here to the amount that is being done under this scheme and I am thankful that the general growing appreciation of the importance of education has made it possible for me to be able to do these things for the teachers.

Motion agreed to.