Dáil Éireann - Volume 590 - 20 October, 2004

Adjournment Debate. - Pension Provisions.

  Mr. Broughan:I thank the Chair for allowing me to raise this issue because, since the Dáil resumed, I have been prevented from raising it on four or five occasions on the spurious ground that because it was an issue which affected a semi-State company, namely, An Post, it could not be raised directly in this House under the responsibility of a Minister. It is also notable that on two or three occasions on the Order of Business the Taoiseach refused to deal with me and to address this matter.

I speak not only for the An Post pensioners, although they are foremost in my mind. The points I make apply equally to the current employees of An Post who have missed out on two stages of the Sustaining Progress national agreement. As Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern refused on a number of occasions last summer to address this matter, claiming that section 13(1) of the An Post main superannuation scheme 1990, as amended in 1997, 1999 and 2001, forbade him to do so as it was a matter for the semi-State body. The current position, whereby 8,000 An Post pensioners on very modest incomes are being deprived of their due increases under Sustaining Progress, is disgraceful and outrageous. I am disappointed that the new senior Minister is not here this evening to respond to the points I wish to make.

This has been going on for almost a year. The pensioners missed out on a 3% rise on 1 November. They missed out on a 2% rise on 1 August. In a couple of months time they will be missing out on another 2% rise. There will therefore be an accumulated 7% loss for these most vulnerable citizens, 8,000 people and their families, perhaps 15,000 people in all.

This emerges apparently because the current chief executive of An Post, Mr. Donal Curtin, has linked the situation of the pensioners to nego[1358] tiations on the transformation agreement of An Post with the current An Post employees. It is a disgraceful tactic by Mr. Curtin and by An Post management to attempt to use pensioners as pawns in a negotiation. It is utterly outrageous.

As I mentioned to the Taoiseach recently, we got our increases and are getting our increases under Sustaining Progress. It is outrageous that these most vulnerable former workers are not getting their increases. It is bad enough that low-paid workers in a semi-State company are denied their cost of living increases but pensioners are now being penalised for years of mismanagement by An Post senior managers and by the board. It is another example of the harsh right-wing ideology of this Government, despite all the palaver by the outgoing for Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, about a move to the left by the Fianna Fáil Party.

I have raised this issue with the new general secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union, Mr. Steve Fitzpatrick, and I discovered that the union has again and again encouraged An Post to look after the pensioners, to give the pensioners their increases and in no way to try to link the two issues. That is why I remain convinced that the fault for this problem lies at the door of the current chief executive, Mr. Donal Curtin, and the management and board of An Post.

We are talking about national pay agreements, to which management, workers and the State put their names, that are intended to cover a range of interests including, in this case, the welfare of pensioners. What is happening is an attempt to pull the rug from under national agreements. There is no justification for this treatment of An Post pensioners. In the folder before me and in my office upstairs I have letter after letter and e-mail after e-mail from pensioners in virtually every constituency around the country. Through the Minister of State, I ask the senior Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to at long last come in here, perhaps tomorrow at Question Time when we will all be here, and address this matter urgently and try to bring about justice for these most vulnerable workers. An important point about this matter is that most of the pensioners to which I refer were civil servants until 1989 and, under the Civil Service regulations, like many current workers at An Post, were covered by Civil Service superannuation. Why should these former civil servants be treated in this cavalier and disgraceful manner?

I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House and urge him to respond on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dempsey.

  Mr. Gallagher:I thank Deputy Broughan for [1359] raising this important issue relating to pensioners who have not been paid their increases under the national pay agreement. I also apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, who regrets he is unable to be in the House to reply to this matter directly.

Both Minister Dempsey and I are aware of the situation that has arisen for An Post pensioners. The issue has been raised on numerous occasions and, as a Minister of State in the Department, I am aware of the situation. More particularly as a Deputy, I am aware of a number of people in my constituency who have suffered as a result of this.

Severe financial difficulties have given rise to a situation where the company has not paid Sustaining Progress increases to its serving staff and, by extension, to its pensioners. The resolution of these financial difficulties is the ultimate solution to the problem.

It will be helpful if l outline for the benefit of the House the background to this situation and how matters stand at present. An Post is facing an extremely serious financial situation, having suffered heavy loses in 2002 and 2003. In the interests of the company, its customers its employees and its pensioners, it is imperative that it is placed on a firm financial footing.

In this context, An Post management has had to implement severe cost cutting measures to stem the flow of losses, including in terms of the Sustaining Progress payments to its employees and pensioners. Authority to implement pension increases was delegated to An Post by the Department on 26 May 1989. Traditionally, An Post has granted increases to serving staff in line with national pay agreements. Increases to pensioners have then subsequently been applied in line with increases granted to serving staff. The terms and conditions, including those regarding the matter of increases, as enshrined in the An Post main superannuation scheme 1990, are based on those that prevailed in the former Department of Posts and Telegraphs. In regard to serving staff, the company is involved in detailed negotiations with its unions, under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, to reach agreement on necessary restructuring to return to financial stability. These negotiations have impacted on consideration of increases for An Post pensioners.

9 o’clock

The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, has no function whatsoever in directing An Post in operational and commercial issues such as the payment of pensions and he does not propose to intervene in the matter. Nevertheless, the Minister is aware that An Post pensioners are concerned about the payment issue and that An Post management is reviewing this situation. In light of this review, he feels that it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage. Both the Minister and I are [1360] sympathetic to the situation in which An Post pensioners find themselves. While the permanent solution is for An Post to be placed on a firm financial footing as soon as possible, the company is at present closely examining pension increases. The Minister has asked An Post to keep us advised of developments. I will relate the issues raised by Deputy Broughan to the Minister when we meet tomorrow.