CRC staff expected to back industrial action

Organisation wants Government to allow staff access to public service pension scheme

Staff at the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) are today expected to back industrial action in a dispute over the sudden closure of their pension scheme.

The board and management at the CRC are seeking the Government to permit staff in the private pension scheme which collapsed to access a public service scheme.

Staff at the CRC, which provides services and supports for people with disabilities, are balloting for potential strike action in protest at the closure of their pension scheme. The ballot result will be known this afternoon and it is expected that the staff, who are represented by the Impact trade union will back industrial action.

The CRC is technically known as a section 38 organisation. It receives about €50 million in funding annually from the HSE and its staff are considered to be public servants.

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However, historically, there were a number of pension arrangements in place for employees with some staff members of a private scheme, others a public scheme and more with no pension arrangements at all.

About 150 people were covered by the private CRC defined-benefit pension scheme including 44 serving employees. However, in May the CRC board decided to discontinue making contributions. This followed actuarial advice that the scheme would require “significant additional funding”. The CRC said the deficit in the scheme had grown by €2 million in the first quarter of this year.

Fundraising arm

The CRC this week said that between 2008 and 2011 about €6.3 million had been invested in additional funding into the the defined-benefit scheme including, controversially, €3 million provided as a loan from its fundraising arm.

The CRC said it only had two sources of funding: its State allocation and public donations. It said it was not prepared to use donations to deal with the pension deficit. It also said that since 2011 it had been paying an employer contribution of 25 per cent into the scheme. Staff made contributions of 10 per cent.

The CRC argued that the scheme provided a greater level of benefits than those set out in a public service pension scheme. This included income continuance cover up to 75 per cent of salary. Staff have complained strongly the decision by the board to cease making contributions to the scheme was taken without any consultation.

The CRC maintained its professional advice was that the scheme trustees could present a demand notice at any time seeking the payment of potentially large sums. “The risk this presented to the CRC organisationally and to the ongoing ability of the CRC to provide services resulted in the necessity that all correspondence on the issue be treated at the highest levels of confidentiality.”

The CRC said its preferred option would be for the staff affected to be allowed to access a scheme created for new public service personnel recruited after early 2013. It said it was in talks with the Department of Health and HSE to try bring this about. However this would involve a change in legislation.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent