Firms in rush from defined-benefit pensions - LRC chief
Implemention of Haddington Road deal among big industrial relations issues ahead, Labour Relations Commission chief executive says
Labour Relations Commission chief executive Kieran Mulvey: rigours demanded of pension funds in the current economic climate and investment environment “have made this area very difficult to address through normal industrial relations channels. Photograph: Eric Luke
He said pension arrangements had moved close to the top of collective bargaining agendas as employers and unions sought to respond to declining asset values and strained investment funds.
However, in an interview with The Irish Times, he said too many employers at the moment “are in a rush to abandon defined-benefit pension schemes, as if one has the view, ‘let’s not waste a good crisis’ ”.
Several weeks ago Mulvey had called for the establishment of a pensions summit “where we could tie down the principles of pension change, the mechanism by which schemes in difficulties would be addressed and not just through minimum funding standards”.
Difficult to address
He said the rigours demanded of pension funds in the current economic climate and investment environment “have made this area very difficult to address through normal industrial relations channels. But addressed it has been and must be”.
Mulvey said among the biggest issues in the industrial relations arena in the year ahead would be the implementation of the Haddington Road agreement, the change process involving many of the commercial semi-State companies, and the planned Government move to establish a new Workplace Relations Commission to take over the functions of a number of existing bodies.
He said that for the Labour Relations Commission, the negotiation of the Haddington Road agreement on public service pay and productivity, after unions voted to reject the earlier Croke Park II deal “involved probably the most complex and demanding conciliation process in its history”.
As part of this process there were talks involving 28 different groups representing staff across the public service. “Our view largely was negotiating the deal and getting agreement around it was one part of a two-part process.”
He said the other element was the implementation of the agreement and dealing with practical issues that arose out of it.
In the coming months the Government will publish legislation aimed at changing the industrial relations landscape, Mulvey noted,
This will involve bringing together all the bodies involved in resolving disputes and grievances, as well as those responsible for adjudicating on employments rights, such as the Labour Relations Commission, the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the Equality Tribunal and the National Employment Rights Authority, into a new Workplace Relations Commission, and a single appellate body, the Labour Court.
He said that in time this would “greatly streamline and improve the effectiveness of workplace dispute and grievance resolution in Ireland”.
On job creation, Mulvey said while the State’s labour market programmes had been very successful, he was worried these could be offset to a degree by closures of a number well-established companies employing 400-500 people in well-paid employment with good conditions.
He said the recent closure of the Lufthansa Technik plant in Dublin, with the loss of around 400 jobs, was indicative of such a development.
He also said he was concerned about the German- owned crane-manufacturing plant Liebherr, which employs nearly 700 people in Killarney.
The company said earlier this month it would re-evaluate its dependency on its Killarney facility on foot of a row over a Labour Court recommendation involving 2.5 per cent back pay for employees
Mr Mulvey said he was always of the view that, culturally, where German owners – whom he described as traditionally very straight-talking people – gives an indication of something, “one needs to take cognisance as to what they say and try to alleviate their concerns”.