‘Pensions parity’ in the public service

 

Sir, – I refer to “The notion of ‘pensions parity’ in the public service is irresponsible” (Opinion & Analysis, April 27th), in which Cliff Taylor describes as “crazy” the suggestion that post-2013 recruits to the public service should have access to the same pension arrangements as earlier recruits. Your columnist writes that there exists a “liability” of €114 billion in respect of public-sector pensions, which, he tells us, “is equivalent to more than half the national debt”. The figure of €114 billion is the cumulative amount the State is forecast to pay in public-sector pensions over the next 70 or so years; any area of current spending can be made to seem alarmingly large by calculating it over a period of 70 years. The State’s projected future spending commitments are completely different to the national debt, which, by contrast, represents money that the State currently owes to its creditors. The appropriate figure to look at is the current annual spending on public-sector pensions, which, at around €3 billion, is equivalent to about 1 per cent of GDP. This is an eminently reasonable amount for the State to spend to give its own employees a decent standard of living in retirement. As for the argument that public-sector workers enjoy unfair advantage in pension entitlements over private-sector workers, this gap should be addressed, but by raising standards in the private sector, not lowering standards in the public sector.

The State, being the largest employer in the economy, has a duty to be a standard-setter. After all, the final-salary pension scheme for civil servants dates back to the 19th century, at a time when private-sector workers did not even enjoy the benefit of the old-age pension.

If we proceed from the premise that it is wrong for workers in one sector to win gains unless these gains are evenly distributed across the workforce, then the gains the labour movement has won for workers over the decades would never have been possible.

For this reason, I support the teaching unions in seeking to have the issue addressed for their members, and I hope the other public-service unions will follow suit. – Yours, etc,

OSAL KELLY,

Delgany, Co Wicklow.