Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Workers win court fight on pensions

Waterford Crystal retirees were denied protection by the state after the firm went bust with a hole in its pension fund, a court ruled

Ten former Waterford Crystal workers have won a landmark court battle against the Government over losses in their pensions.

The European Court of Justice ruled the retirees had been denied protection by the state after the company went bust in 2009 with a gaping hole in its pension fund. The retirement pot for workers was 110 million euro in deficit.

Actuaries for the workers calculated they were in line for between 18 and 28% of what had been expected, while actuaries for the state said it was more like 16-41%.

Judges at the Luxembourg court ruled offering retirees half of what they had been promised under a defined benefit scheme does not amount to protection by the state.

It added: "The economic situation of the member state concerned does not constitute an exceptional situation capable of justifying a lower level of protection of the interests of employees as regards their entitlement to old-age benefits under a supplementary occupational pension scheme. "

The successful case was taken by Thomas Hogan, John Burns, John Dooley, Alfred Ryan, Michael Cunningham, Michael Dooley, Denis Hayes, Marion Walsh, Joan Power and Walter Walsh against the Government. The workers claimed their rights were not protected by the state in the event of the insolvency of their employer.

The case was taken on the back of a successful legal challenge by English woman Carol Robins against the British Government after a company's insolvency left her with only 49% of her pension.

Article 8 of European Directive 2008/94 is designed to ensure workers' pensions are protected if a company goes bust. The directive does not examine the reasons why a company went bust or why the pension fund is insolvent.

The Department of Social Protection declined to comment as the case will now go back to the High Court in Dublin to determine how much the workers should be paid in pensions.

Jimmy Kelly, a former Waterford Crystal worker and a regional secretary with the Unite trade union, said there is an onus on the Government to ensure retirees are protected. "It is regrettable that the state chose to contest what should have been an open and shut case, causing distress and uncertainty for the workers involved and forcing the taxpayer to pick up a substantial legal bill," he said.

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