Archive for December 7, 2016

Private Sector Pensions Scandal

December 7, 2016 1 comment

Irish Private Sector Pensioners Being Robbed Blind in Cruel Scam


” Wealthy companies and a heartless state wipe us off their shoes like dog turds-

He was universally regarded as a gentleman. The rest of us thought him much too refined for the daily grind of journalism when he worked for the Irish Independent. One night last week, he texted: “What a bunch of shites Fine Gael and INM are. It makes one think violent thoughts, I’m afraid.”

He was talking about the arbitrary announcement by Independent News & Media (INM) of the wind-up of its defined-benefit pension scheme, thus threatening to impoverish scores of people on the final laps of their working lives. His fury at Fine Gael is because, despite loud and repeated warnings that defined-benefit pension schemes were shuffling towards the abyss, the party has done nothing in its six years in power to protect those at risk, numbering about 600,000 individuals plus dependents.

As I wrote last week, I am one of those people who now find our employment contracts, with their concomitant pension plans, have no legal standing. We have also discovered that the Pensions Authority is powerless to enforce a restructuring arrangement, which the state watchdog approved in 2013 and which left us 40% poorer even then.

It is infuriating that, while members of insolvent pension schemes operated by insolvent companies are statutorily entitled to be compensated by the state, there is no law prohibiting profitable companies such as the cash-rich INM from throwing its pension-fund members to the wolves. Neither is the state obliged to provide compensation.

Could politicians possibly be so cynical as to recognise that, by allowing companies to unceremoniously dump their schemes, it saves the state massive potential payments should those companies go bust in the future?

“This is a wealthy company wiping us off its shoes like a dog turd, with no care for the loyal years and hard work we gave them,” another former colleague emailed me. “It’s not just the money — you feel betrayed, dismissed, dishonoured.” She and her husband both left INM in recent years. “We have been going through days in the house here where, when one of us gets some kind of calm around the situation, the other flares up. Then we reverse roles. It’s like a seesaw,” she said.

Most of the correspondence I received last week was deeply personal and emanated from members of various pension schemes around the country. Many previously worked for Aer Lingus and SR Technics, whose deferred pensioners were sacrificed by the state when it sold off the airline. They feel betrayed not by governments alone but by trade unions that failed to uphold their interests, and by what they perceive as an unsympathetic media.

A man who worked for Aer Lingus wrote: “We are a small, powerless group that the media has, in the past, portrayed as fortunate in that we will get a [60%-reduced] pension when others don’t have anything but the state pension. We worked all our lives, followed the rules, paid our dues and expected the institutions to stand by us at the end of our working lives.”

Another man said: “This country exists for the elite at the expense of the ordinary, hard-working citizens.” A woman who worked from the age of 20 while rearing her family said her employer closed its defined-benefit fund a few years ago. Now retired, she receives the handsome payment of €66 a month.

One of the saddest letters came from a couple in their fifties who were dependent on the SR Technics pension, which was initially cut by 20% and then 50% to facilitate the sale of Aer Lingus to AIG. Encumbered with mortgage arrears and facing a court repossession application by AIB — the bank the people of Ireland, including this couple, now own after bailing it out — they said: “We don’t know when the bank will get our home. We are devastated. All efforts to get the government to listen were futile.”

The generosity of spirit is remarkable in these letters. Again and again, people decry the institutionalised unfairness in Ireland that permitted an unprecedented homelessness crisis to develop while vulture funds swooped on the property pickings.

Two years after Jonathan Corrie died on a doorstep 20 yards from Dail Eireann, the bodies of two other homeless men were discovered last week. Paul Gorman, 49, was found in a Tesco trolley bay of a Dundalk shopping centre where he had been sleeping in sub-zero temperatures. In Buncrana, Mariusz Ejdys, 37, died in an abandoned mill. Hours after these discoveries, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail ganged up to vote down a Sinn Fein bill in the Dail designed to secure rent certainty.

What sort of society inculcates such injustice? One run by institutions with unfairness stamped on their DNA. Institutional Ireland neglects to protect the majority while issuing honorary doctorates and invitations to state banquets for purveyors of the greed-is-good creed. The two biggest political parties see no shame in inviting a loudmouth like Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary to regale them with his trademark hurtful insults and denigration of whole sectors of decent people.

This is the country that refused to collect €13bn in taxes from Apple and facilitated Promontoria Eagle, a Cerberus subsidiary, to pay less than €1,900 tax on the €77m profits it reaped from assets it controversially bought from Nama.

This is a country that never closes one buccaneer’s loophole, such as section 110, without opening another, such as the expansion and extension in the 2017 budget of special tax exemptions for multinational executives coming to work here.

This is a country where Aran islanders are left stranded without a ferry service for the hazardous and isolating winter months and are required to pay for the pleasure of standing upon the pier when next the ferry hoves into view. This is a country that traduces whistleblowers’ reputations with the most disgusting lies in order to protect the status quo. Ask Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

This is a country where the capital’s main street houses the shuttered department store Clerys. The lights have been off since June 2015, when Natrium, its new owner, closed it down without warning, consigning more than 460 workers to the dole queue. This Christmas, the windows at Clerys are festooned with jolly festive greetings. A sign invites passers-by to take a selfie against the window and enter a contest for a €100 shopping voucher.

If generosity rings through these letters, so does self-respect. “The only thing we are both sure of is that we will survive this in spite of INM,” wrote the woman who, with her husband, worked for the newspaper company for most of their adult lives. “I refuse to let them dictate how I live the rest of my life.”

“We are angry but not yet beaten,” vowed a former Aer Lingus worker. “So angry it’s giving me the impetus to fight back,” said the woman in danger of losing her home.

How much easier it would be to surrender, and elect a Donald Trump. But that would be to stoop to the state’s level. ”


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