Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In Ireland, 80 disabled miners can be excluded from benefits, Supreme Court says

From Irish Times:

Tara Mines has secured a Supreme Court judgment allowing it to exclude up to 80 former miners with a disability from certain substantial pension benefits made available to existing employees.

A three-judge Supreme Court yDec. 21 allowed the appeal by Boliden Tara Mines Ltd against a High Court ruling that former workers in receipt of benefits under the income continuance plan of the company were also entitled to certain pension benefits sanctioned for the Tara Mines Pension Plan in 1999.

The High Court decision had meant disabled workers receiving income continuance payments (the ICP group) would, in common with existing employees, not be subject to substantial deductions from their pensions.

The High Court had noted the ICP, closed to new entrants from 2002, was of particular importance because of the physical demands of mining work.

An employee accepted into the ICP due to disability would receive an income benefit which, subject to periodic medical assessment, continued until the age of 65. An ICP beneficiary also remained an active member of the pension plan and the years where a person received ICP benefit were considered years of service with the company for pension purposes.

The Tara pension plan was established and operated under trust and rules declared by the company. From 1996 it was governed by a deed of amendment between the company and the Irish Pensions Trust, which defined pensionable salary as a member’s annual rate of basic salary less an amount to be decided by the employer not exceeding 1½ times the annual State old-age pension.

Giving the Supreme Court ruling yesterday, Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman noted the 1999 deed of amendment occurred against a background of worsening circumstances for the company which asked workers to implement a new work organisation scheme. Proposals concerning the pension plan. approved by employees and the company, in early 1998 included the elimination of “integration”.

After issues emerged with a particular pensioner, the company took legal advice and said its view was the rules of the pension scheme did not reflect what was intended in 1999. It sought rectification from the High Court which in 2007 refused the application.

Mr Justice Hardiman said the evidence from both parties involved in the 1999 deed of amendment was to the same effect – the deed did not reflect the intention of Tara Mines or the Irish Pensions Trust to exclude members in receipt of ICP benefit from the entitlement to be excluded from “integration”.

There was ample evidence the company and trustees behaved at all times towards pensioners on the basis the true position was as they intended it to be, he said.

The Irish Pensions Trust in- house lawyer had said she considered there was no need to expressly state in the 1999 deed the ICP group were excluded as she considered they were already excluded as they were no longer company employees, he said.