I object in the strongest possible terms to section 33. As Senator Darragh O’Brien said, this section represents a huge interference with the pension rights of members of the Irish airline superannuation scheme.
Essentially, it will give the trustees the power to wind up the scheme without fulfilling the minimum funding standard – as Senator Darragh O’Brien noted, the company remains profitable and, as a result, it just involves a single insolvency – and to transfer the members to a lesser scheme without their consent. In the context of said scheme, the members will receive far fewer benefits than they have been given a legitimate expectation of. These are entitlements for which the staff have paid by means of contributions from their wages and they were a key element of their terms and conditions. Staff who were made redundant from SR Technics were given assurances as part of their redundancy agreements and the pension scheme was used as an incentive to encourage former staff of both Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority to retire early. It is incredibly unfair, therefore, that legislation designed to unilaterally throw these agreements and the assurances given by the Government and the company out the window has been brought forward. It is particularly offensive that this is happening at a time when negotiations are taking place, when the expert panel is examining the scheme and the deficit relating thereto and when attempts are being made to reach agreement with everyone involved. It shows incredibly poor faith on the part of the Government to bring forward a section such as that before us while the negotiations to which I refer are ongoing. As a result of its actions, the pensioners are virtually going to have no negotiating position because the rug is being pulled from under them. The industrial relations environment within Aer Lingus is already incredibly sensitive and there is a further strike threat in respect of rosters and other issues. The Government has ridden into the middle of all of this and inflamed the situation unnecessarily by interfering with people’s pension rights.
What is being done is ill-advised and incredibly unfair and the section should be deleted. The Minister should be setting aside what is proposed and allowing the negotiations to continue. The 5,000 people who retired early and have a right to deferred pensions are not represented at the negotiations and there is no one present at the expert panel discussions to speak on their behalf. The negotiations should be allowed to continue; the deferred members should be represented and the section should be withdrawn. If it is not, we will be opposing it and pressing the matter to a vote.