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Angry ex-worker rejects Richardson's pension offer

By Sam McBride

A former worker at a Belfast factory which closed leaving a £21m pension shortfall last night rejected a compensation offer.

Harry Bradley (64), a production worker at Richardson's Fertilizers plant for 27 years until it closed in 2002, said he believed his colleagues would also decline the government offer.

Up to 200 Richardson's workers could receive payments from the controversial Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS).

Former employees who were within 15 years of retirement in 2004 could receive 80% of their expected pension under the scheme.

The payments will be capped at £12,000 per year which will be taxable and could affect entitlement to other benefits. Some workers can only receive 50% of their pension.

Mr Bradley said many former Richardson's workers will not accept the payments and wait for the outcome of a legal challenge in February.

The south Belfast man is taking a judicial review case to the High Court in London seeking compensation for the victims of similar UK pension scandals.

Speaking of workers' views of the scheme, he said: "I know that people will not accept this.

"The Irish government and ICI shouldn't just be able to walk away from this. One of the things that really hurts about this is that the shareholders can walk away - I still feel angry about that."

Department for Work and Pensions minister Lord Hunt told Lord Laird in a written answer: "Members within seven years of scheme pension age on May 14, 2004, will benefit from FAS topping up of their pensions to around 80% of their expected core pension."

Lord Hunt said workers between seven and 15 years from scheme pension age, " can more reasonably be expected to supplement their retirement income".

In 2002 Richardson's announced it was going into liquidation with plants in Belfast, Cork and Arklow closing.

The Irish government, which owned 51% of the company, and British multinational ICI, the 49% shareholder, refused to pay redundancy in accordance with standing agreements.

They instead announced a £17.8m severance package to the workers in their three plants.

Workers refused to accept the offer and held protests outside the offices of Irish Enterprise Minister Mary Harney.

Amalgamated Trade and General Workers' Union officer Maurice Cunningham said the situation identified problems with the private pensions system which need to be addressed.

"There are people who have died without knowing if they were going to receive money," he said.

"The main thing about this is that the two shareholders, ICI and the Irish government, have not had to pay this. I don't think it is right that taxpayers should have to pick up the bill for another government and a multi-national company."

Dr Ros Altmann, a former Treasury advisor, said the FAS scheme was just " government spin".

"The FAS is wholly inadequate and seems to be designed to try to get positive headlines, rather than help those affected," she said.

"If inflation is 2.5-3% a year, then within 20 years or so the value of this pension will halve in real terms. After 20 years the 80% will be worth only 40% and by the end of retirement, those who initially get 50% of the pension will end up with only 25%."

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