Pension issue could lead to airport strikes on St. Patrick’s week


Bear in mind that Independent Newspapers was one of the country’s leading companies.  And this is not unusual. Pensions schemes in big private companies across Ireland have been decimated by the downturn.

Now contrast this with the situation for workers in Aer Lingus and the airports and the workers who were part of the giant aircraft maintenance facility at Dublin Airport.  All these workers are part of the IASS – the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme – which is a defined benefit scheme linking pensions to final pay, not to the stock markets.

The IASS scheme has a deficit of around €800 million (or around a billion dollars). Various suggestions, some backed by the Labour Court, have been made about how to deal with this, involving extra payments into the fund and reduced benefits for retirees.

But the workers are having none of it.  Because they see themselves as semi-state workers they want the state to step in and rescue them (the state is still the biggest shareholder in Aer Lingus).  And to get their way, they are threatening to bring air travel into and out of Ireland to a standstill.

You may remember that we were faced with a similar situation before Christmas when the workers at Electric Ireland (the former ESB which is still by far the biggest supplier of power here) threatened to turn off the country’s lights if their guaranteed pensions were adjusted.  They didn’t pull the plug, but only because they got what they regard as an assurance that their pensions are safe.  

What both of these situations have in common is power and virtual monopoly, and workers willing to use their position to blackmail the country into giving them what they want.

Workers in private companies here have been left to face retirement with severely reduced pensions. Workers in powerful state or semi-state sectors have been able to bully everyone else to protect themselves and their pensions.  

What is happening is a national disgrace.  It is a completely unjust situation, of course. 

But it is something that the trade unions, which now have their main power base in the state sector workforce, are fighting to retain.  So much for equality, brother.

In this column, some time ago, we suggested the basis for a way forward.  True equality across Irish society would mean that the pensions of all state workers would be linked to the average performance of all the pension funds that private sector workers depend on.

With all the statistics we have access to these days and all the computer power we have to analyze the figures, such a calculation would be possible.  Of course, any suggestion of this type is met with a furious response from our trade union “brothers.”

Fasten your seatbelts. There is severe turbulence ahead.