The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has urged Independent News and Media (INM) pension fund trustees to appeal the company’s plan to close its defined benefit pension scheme to the High Court.
ICTU general secretary Patricia King made the call at a press briefing jointly hosted by Siptu and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) ahead of yesterday’s shareholder vote on INM’s balance sheet restructuring plans.
INM comfortably passed at that EGM, thanks to proxy votes’ resolutions, to write off €1.1bn of legacy losses related to previous asset investments in the UK and Australasia.
The final proposal still needs High Court approval.
However, attendees were more concerned with INM’s plan to stop contributing to its defined benefit pension scheme, three years after restructuring it.
In 2013, scheme members accepted a 40% cut to their benefits and this move will bring total cuts to 70%.
INM’s latest restructuring will strengthen its balance sheet (although the company will make no cash gain from it) and hasten a return to shareholder dividends, something which has angered many as long-term staff members are in line for severe pension cuts as major stakeholders profit.
INM chairman Leslie Buckley told the meeting that he understood the concern but said it was “not appropriate to make comment [on the pension plan] as “discussions between the pension trustees and the company are ongoing”.
The meeting drew a protest from around 100 former and current INM staff.
That did not stop former Irish Independent business journalist Martin Fitzpatrick telling the board that closing the pension scheme was “despicable” and “one of the most shameful corporate decisions ...which should not be allowed to happen”.
Speaking earlier, NUJ Irish secretary Séamus Dooley said: “The manner in which this decision was taken — without involvement of the trustees, with no consultation with the workers, scheme members or their unions, is a display of arrogance towards those who helped build up this company and towards the Pensions Authority.
“This case highlights the need for urgent reform of the law governing pensions in the Republic of Ireland, a fact illustrated by the fact that INM could not get away with doing this in their Northern Ireland titles.”
Mr Dooley also called on Communications Minister Denis Naughten to consider INM’s corporate governance and industrial relations records before ruling on its purchase of Celtic Media, which has already got competition clearance, but is awaiting Government approval.
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