Pensions have become the latest industrial relations battleground as a growing number of companies — including some of Ireland’s largest and most profitable, such as Bank of Ireland, are seeking to abandon schemes providing guaranteed benefits to staff on retirement.
The unions’ position on pensions received support from the highest echelon of government however last Thursday.
Addressing a Labor Relations Commission symposium in Dublin entitled “New Perspective on Workplace Change,” Ahern departed from a prepared speech to deliver unprecedented remarks on pensions to speak out on behalf of workers.
Although he did not mention Bank of Ireland by name, he said: “I know everybody will know what I mean in this.”
“When I get very high profile companies and highly profitable companies in Irish society and when I still get … saying that people won’t talk to them particularly when you get around the issue of pensions, I quite frankly believe that the employers have got the pension thing wrong,” said Ahern.
He said that pension entitlements were a fundamental aspect of working conditions and therefore, changes could have major impact on the lives or workers.
“This is a very big issue for workers. It would involve changes to workers’ terms and conditions. It is not an issue where people can just roll over the entitlement of workers,” he said.
He suggested that employers were now adopting an approach where changing pensions was the fashion and was not based on the need to change and protect the viability of companies.
“[Every so often] someone gets on to an issue and says this is the issue we have got to change. Pensions have become that,” he said.
In what was widely interpreted as a thinly-veiled reference to Bank of Ireland — one of Ireland’s most profitable companies with record profits of