Waterford Crystal workers trade union UNITE has initiated legal proceedings against the government following its failure to provide pension protection for members of the company’s Pension scheme.
The two pension funds for ‘staff’ and ‘workers’ at Waterford Crystal were wound up on Tuesday following a meeting between management and union trustees and Mercer/The Irish Pensions Trust.
Walter Cullen, spokesperson for UNITE, which represents most of the members of the scheme, said the Trustees were forced to wind up the scheme because of the Government’s failure to protect the workers and honour their obligations under the EU insolvency Directive.
Mr Cullen said UNITE would be seeking support from other unions in the ICTU to seek justice for all workers ‘similarly abandoned by the government’.
The Waterford Crystal joint fund is one of the first defined benefit schemes in this country to be formally wound up and there are about 1800 people in the schemes, including the existing Waterford Crystal pensioners.
It is estimated the fund is valued in the region of €120m, about one-third of what its true worth should be. However, because of complex factors it should not be deduced that the true worth should be three times that amount.
Existing pensions of former workers, protected by The Pensions Act, are safe and the redundant workers will be presented with a number of options pertaining to their entitlements including acceptance of their transfer value from the funds, the purchase of bonds with their money or, possibly, an agreement to embark on a new pension structure.
However, the former Crystal employees have been utterly failed by the Government, according to Mr Cullen. “The EU Insolvency Directive has been implemented in other countries including the UK. The impact of the Directive has been clarified by the Robins judgement from the European Court of Justice in 2007.
The regime criticised by the Robins judgement has been strengthened to protect workers’ pensions in the UK but no action has been taken to date in Ireland. The ECJ in their judgement stated that a regime which allowed members to receive between 25% and 49% of their rights cannot be considered as providing sufficient protection as required under the Insolvency Directive.
“While the pensioners of the Waterford Crystal pension schemes are fully protected under Irish pension law, all other members of the schemes will receive a benefit towards the lower end of the above range.
“The winding up of the scheme is another dark milestone for the employees of Waterford Crystal,” said Mr Cullen. “Not only have the majority lost their jobs and their redundancy payments, they have also been abandoned by the Government.
“Our members in Waterford have no supporters within the Government parties or at the Cabinet table. For the Government to abandon workers who have paid for the pensions all their working lives while insuring that their ministerial and TD pensions are fully funded at taxpayers’ expense is an outrage.”