The General Purposes Committee (GPC) met with the Pensions Manager and Chairman of Trustees on Thursday 27th September 2012 and were briefed on the Trustees decision to reduce pensions in order to recover the cost of the Pensions Levy.
The bullet points below highlight the important issues from that briefing. The GPC have written to the The Trustees and the ESB Chairman communicating the Retired Staff Association’s refusal to accept their decision to place the responsibility for the entire levy on the shoulders of pensioners while ESB have said they will the pay nothing towards the Levy and the serving staff will pay a much smaller proportion of the Levy in the future and perhaps only when they reach retirement.
The decision of the Trustees is a watershed for ESB pensioners. Never in the history of our pension fund have the Trustees reduced our pension. The fact that they choose to do it so unfairly leaves one wondering what the company has come to. The levy was imposed as a tax on Pension Funds by the Minister for Finance. Fund Trustee were urged to find ways and means to pay this tax. Various options were suggested other than reduction in pension payments.
Pensions will be reduced permanently by 0.6% from November 2012, for all members (and their spouses) where applicable, until both are deceased
This 0.6% reduction in pensions is to recover the cost of the Pensions Levy of €18 million paid in September 2011 only
On a pension of €24,000 pa (€2,000 per month) the pension reduction will be €12 per month
The Pensions Levy was introduced by Government for a period of 4 years from 2011 to 2014
The Trustees will review the situation following each of the Levy payments over the next 3 years
At the end of the 4-year period of the Levy payments, the cumulative reduction in pensions could amount to at least 2.4% or €48 per month on a pension of €2,000 per month
Pensioners are being asked to contribute €14 million out of the €18 million paid by the Fund
Serving staff are being asked to pay the balance of €4 million but this is being deferred until they become pensioners
ESB have refused to make any contribution whatsoever to the cost of the Pension levy despite making a profit of €469 million in 2011
The Trustees rejected the suggestion that the Pension Fund should absorb the cost of the Levy despite an improved deficit situation, reduced from €1,957 million in 2008 to €72 million in 2011
As this is the first 2012 Newsletter to issue from the ESB Retired Staff Association (ESBRSA) nationally, we deemed it appropriate to begin by giving members some basic information about our Organisation and how it is structured and operates. We are commonly referred to as ESBRSA, or simply the RSA.
We are a nationwide organisation with 18 Branches across the country as shown below:
Cork Dublin – Head Office
Dublin Region Dundalk
Lanesboro Limerick/ Ardnacrusha
See Branch Contact Information at the end of this newletter.
Branches operate based on a Constitution which sets out the rules under which they function. Each Branch holds an AGM and elects Officers and committee members to serve for the coming year. Branches see themselves as representing members’ interests in two ways:
1. Protecting pensioner interests on issues concerning ESB Pensions, medical costs including MPF, ESOP issues, Credit Union, and any issues arising nationally of concern to or impacting on pensioners.
Organising social activities, outings, holidays, evening functions and talks on specific topics.
The National Executive Committee (NEC) is the representative and governing body of the ESBRSA nationally and is made up of Delegates nominated by all Branches at their respective AGM’s. The NEC operates based on rules set out in its Constitution. It meets quarterly and holds its AGM in June each year.
At the AGM the NEC elects Officers to serve for the coming year and it also elects the General Purposes Committee (GPC). The GPC meets monthly and deals with the day to day business of the RSA. The GPC reports on all activities and issues which have arisen to the quarterly NEC Meetings.
RSA has a membership of over 50% of all pensioners in ESB. This has been achieved following major recruitment campaigns in 2009 and again in 2010. Another recruitment campaign is planned for 2012.
The RSA has set up its own website as a means of keeping pensioners up to date on current issues of interest to pensioners. The website URL is http://www.superann2u2.comand isavailable to all pensioners with access to the internet. The site is designed as a ‘blog’ and so allows members to send comments back directly to the site editor. Contributors’ contact details will not be published except when requested.
The RSA is affiliated to two Organisations with a role nationally of representing and protecting the interests of pensioners and the elderly.
-The National Federation of Pensioners Associations (NFPA). The NFPA represents pensioners from the Public Service, Semi-States and Private Industry. It makes a pre-budget submission each year with emphasis on the needs of pensioners in areas such as Finance, Social Welfare, Health, etc. It has also made submissions to the Positive Aging Strategy and the National Pension Framework Processes. It has also been involved in a coordinated action in relation to the Pension Levy. The NEC has a representative on the NFPA.
- TheIrish Senior Citizens Parliament (ISCP). The coordinated protest action of the ISCP in relation to removal of the medical card from the over 70′s a couple of years ago was very successful. The ISCP is also involved in Pension Levy issues and other Government legislation affecting pensions and pensioners. The NEC has a representative on the ISCP Executive.
REVIEW OF YEAR 2011
1. CHANGES TO DB PENSION SCHEME
RSA began the year 2011 with a major letter writing protest to ESB management following the finalisation of an agreement between ESB and the Group of Unions (GOU) which included a far reaching review and changes to ESB Defined Benefit Pension Scheme. The Agreement formally breaks the link between salary & pensions and also seriously restricts the potential for any future increases in pensions, starting with a 4 year pension freeze. Pensioners are at risk of serious loss of value of pensions due to inflation. While information only meetings were held with RSA members during this process, pensioners were not given a vote on this agreement even though all pensioner members were directly affected by the agreement and will continue to be so into the future.
ESB initiated a ‘consultation’ process with pensioners in late 2010 which culminated in pensioners responding as outlined above.
Following RSA members’ letter writing protest, ESB management did subsequently make a token only concession in relation to reviewing the impact on pensions if a period of sustained high inflation occurred in the future.
Following on the changes to the Pension Scheme mentioned above, the ESB had to revise the Rules of the Pension Scheme in line with the changes agreed with GOU & staff. This also involved developing new Governance Guidelines for the operation of the pension scheme.
ESB engaged a company – LCP, to assist in the Governance Review process. RSA were given an opportunity to make a submission on Governance to LCP. RSA availed of this opportunity and made a comprehensive submission to LCP early in 2011.
However, since then RSA has received no feedback on their input to the process. We know that revised Governance Guidelines have been approved and agreed along with revised Pension Scheme Rules. We formally requested copies of both the Revised Governance Guidelines and the Revised Pension Scheme Rules in Sept 2011. RSA has been advised recently that the Governance Guidelines for our Pension Scheme will not be provided to us.
3. TRUSTEE SELECTION PROCESS
The year 2011 was an election year for Trustees to the ESB Pension Scheme. RSA discovered during this process that the ground rules for election of two Trustees by the staff and pensioners had changed following the revised Governance Guidelines. Individuals nominated by staff or pensioners to run in the election have now to go through a “selection process” by a panel of 3 who deem whether or not they are “suitable” to run for election as a Trustee. Only those deemed “suitable” by this panel of 3 make it to the ballot paper.
RSA members had neither hand, act nor part in selecting the panel of 3 and do not know what their instructions were or what criteria they employed in selecting candidates suitable for election as Trustees. Our concerns about this discriminatory & undemocratic process, which only applies to Member Nominated Trustees, were conveyed in writing to the Chairman of ESB and we await a satisfactory response.
4. PENSIONS LEVY
When RSA became aware in mid 2011 of Government proposals to levy pension schemes, we researched the position. Through our affiliated organisations, ISCP & NFPA, the Levy, it’s impact on Pension Funds and the serious concerns of pensioners, were raised with Government Ministers and our views were made clear to them. When it became clear that the legislation had passed through the Dail, the RSA wrote to President McAleese requesting that she refer the levy legislation to the Supreme Court. However as the legislation was part of a Finance Act, it was outside the scope of the President to so refer it.
RSA also raised the issue with ESB Pensions Manager whose concerns about the levy were at one with RSA. The impact of the levy on the ESB Pension Fund has yet to be determined. The Pensions Office and ESB Management received over 1,100 letters of protest and concern about the levy from worried pensioners.
5. TREATMENT OF PENSION FUND COSTS IN ESB 2010 ACCOUNTS
RSA became aware of a significant change in the treatment of Pension Fund Costs in the 2010 ESB Accounts Report. Upon investigation, it was clear from the accounts that the Pension Scheme was being treated as a Defined Contribution rather than a Defined Benefit Scheme from Oct 2010. Also a total of over €1.6Bn of the deficit was “derecognised” per the accounts.
RSA wrote to the Chairman expressing our serious concerns about the above. While we have received a response committing to address the issue with us, we await a formal reply to our letter.
6. COMMUNUCATIONS WITH ESB
During the second half of 2011 and following the election of new Officers to NEC & GPC, the RSA deemed it appropriate to initiate some formal communications process with ESB Pensions Manager. This was intended to provide an opportunity for open and pragmatic two-way communications. Two meetings were held in Sept & Dec. While these meetings were cordial and aimed at setting the ground rules for future regular contact, a confidentiality clause, imposed by ESB Pensions Manager, severely restricted reporting back to NEC/pensioners. This and other requirements proposed by ESB make it very difficult to move forward at present. Despite this RSA remain committed to achieving a meaningful relationship.
RSA ORGANISATIONAL WORK IN 2011
During 2011, the RSA recognised that, looking into the future, we will have many more challenges to deal with than perhaps was the case in the past. As a starting point it was felt worthwhile to look at and review how fit for purpose the RSA is to take on those challenges that may lie ahead. It was decided to address this under 3 headings:
Branch Organisation Review
Pensions Forum within RSA
1. CONSTITUTION REVIEW
The main document which governs the RSA is the NEC Constitution. This has been in place since the RSA was established in 1974, with some minor amendments over the years. In that time the number of Branches and the number of pensioner members has grown significantly particularly in recent years.
A small group of GPC members took on the task of reviewing and re-writing the Constitution to reflect how organisations operate in the 21st century. This group has been actively supported by some local Branch members across the country. All Branches were written to by NEC Officers and furnished with copies of the Constitution and given an opportunity to input their views to the process.
A number of drafts have been prepared and the Group is nearing completion of a document which will be presented to an NEC Meeting in the near future.
2. BRANCH ORGANISATION REVIEW
For the same reasons as set out above, – changing circumstances and growing pensioner numbers, Terms of Reference were agreed by NEC for an Audit of all Branches to review their fitness for purpose to face and deal with the challenges that lie ahead for all RSA members. A small number of GPC members supported by some local branch members took on this significant task. Two comprehensive questionnaires issued to all Branches in the second half of 2011. An excellent response was received from the Branches, for which we formally thank all Branch Committee members.
A comprehensive report has now been prepared based on the results of the questionnaires and is ready for discussion and action at the next GPC/ NEC meetings. Again the small group, led by Cork Branch, is to be complimented for the excellent work done.
3. PENSIONS FORUM WITHIN RSA
Given the significant changes that have already taken place in relation to the Rules of the Pension Scheme and the Governance of same during 2010 & 2011, RSA felt that it should have a distinct expert group to focus on and review these changes and any legislative changes affecting pensioners and pensions likely to be driven by Government, the Pensions Board and the ESB into the future. It is intended that this Forum will have independent, legal, actuarial and accounting advice available to it.
To that end a draft document was prepared and presented to the NEC during 2011. This document has been on hold pending the finalisation of the Constitution Review and the Branch Organisation Review.