When we think of getting older and retiring, more often than not we think in terms of a more relaxed phase in our lives, where we get to travel for a little more than the ‘week in the sun’. We see ourselves with free time and money for hobbies and new interests. This is the reward for a lifetime of work. All of the above requires an income that allows us to live in relative comfort. As the state pension provides a top rate of €277.30, which a huge number of pensioners don’t qualify for, another source of income will be required to provide for the comforts we would wish for.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that while pension coverage is at 56%, it still leaves around 750,000 workers in the State with no private pension – a high percentage of whom are on lower incomes. This means that many will be completely reliant on the State pension when they get older. However, as the full State pension is just €277 (top rate) a week, many workers could see a major reduction in their living standards when they retire. This is against a background of people at 30-40 years of age in rented accommodation and only now being able to apply for a mortgage. 44% of first-time buyers are over 35 years of age when applying for their mortgage loan. They are facing the likelihood of still paying this off at 70 years of age with the retirement age and state pension age at 66 years. This sets the context for the need for another tier of income for the many workers who are not as yet part of a retirement/occupational plan.

Cue Auto-enrolment: Minister Heather Humphries announced that this legislation would be introduced by end of March and move swiftly through the Oireachtas after the Easter recess.” As I have told my officials, I will sit in the Dáil and Seanad day and night to get that Bill enacted as quickly as humanly possible.” Minister Humphries. This action is commendable and while there are many critiques of aspects of the pension scheme (in particular the administrative process), there is no doubt that a second tier of pension is needed.

However, the willingness to ensure legislation is in place to guarantee people are well served in their older years sits a little uneasy, with the many millions of older people who have financially contributed all of their working lives to an only second-tier pension. This came with the promise and commitment of ‘a retirement income’ based on those contributions. This sadly is not the case. As Tony Collins from ESB retired staff notes:

When you are in employment you are represented by your trade union, but when you retire you have no representative voice”.

We have been fighting for over ten years to ensure we can have our voice heard when Trade Unions and Employers are discussing issues that affect our pension. We have had no success. This has resulted in a loss of pension income for many of our members. This is echoed by many retired staff associations; RTE, RASA, Bord na Mona, CIE alongside many, many more. The Alliance of Retired Civil Servants are in a particular bind as they do not fit the ‘legal’ description of workers and have no rights at all.

What is harder to grasp is the outright opposition of this Government and lack of support for a Bill before the Dail for the last two and half years. It would give those very rights to older people to have a voice at the table. As Eileen Sweeney from RASA notes;

“There is no other cohort of people who are denied a collective voice relating to their income.”

Sue Shaw (Pension spokesperson) speaking for the collective network with the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament asks “Why would anyone agree to have their money stopped throughout their life and then be told that you have no say when you retire. Apart from being ageist and lacking in equality, it would be utter madness’

We urge that this issue be addressed as a matter of urgency.