Saturday, 18 February 2017

slouching towards a pension

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

My first wage-packet, for a week's work riddling and bagging potatoes, was £6.50; the second week I got £6.50 and a 4 stone = 25kg bag of spuds. That was more than 40 years ago and money wasn't the same thing but 25kg was a lot of potatoes and it was a bit of a mixed blessing when I handed it up to my mother. My subsequent 'career' hasn't been notable for its forward planning or sense of direction: my working life would be better described as ragged series of lurches rather than a career. For one thing I've never had a permanent job: in a lifetime in science I've never had a contract longer than three years and have had two stop gap contracts of six weeks. I also had 15 months on The Dole between finishing 2x three year contracts in an English University and shifting to Dublin. Through the 1990s and until 2002, there was no obligation for employers in the Irish public service to pay a contribution to the pension of short-term employees, so there is a a gap of 13 years in my pension contributions. I've been continuously in employment in Ireland since 1990, so I've paid my 'stamps' and am entitled to the Old Age Pension after my 66th birthday. I see what my aged widowed father-in-law Pat the Salt has to live on, and it won't be all beer and skittles and chocolate biscuits if the state OAP is all I had to live on. I do have the six years of public service work paid into the University Superannuation Scheme USS in England; that means that I will get 6/80ths of my final salary (index-linked!) when I get to retirement age. As I was on the lowest possible "1b" academic pay-scale back then, that pension will be about enough for a Mars Bar each week.

I really enjoy my job at The Institute: every Monday morning I put on my happy face and try to encourage our students to push the frontiers of science. Nevertheless all things must pass and about a year ago I dropped in on HR to find out exactly when I'd be put out to grass and make room for someone younger, fitter and preferably with more X chromosomes to be a more realistic role model in/for science. I didn't get a straight answer, but the nice and efficient lady from Pensions asked if I wanted to consolidate my pension into a single pot. I looked dense, so she explained that, as I'd worked in other institutions in Ireland, I'd be getting dribs and drabs of fragments of pension from several sources and that might be bitty and inconvenient. If I gave her authorisation, she'd talk to her oppos in UCD and TCD to find out what I was owed.

UCD got back to her with commendable promptness to say that I had a couple of years of pensionable service in their bank and a couple more where I could buy back a pension entitlement. I didn't understand this and asked if I had any choice. Mme Pension said I had no choice, so we agreed to amortize my salary by several €'00 over the next 5 months to pay off the debt to UCD and so acquire pension rights. I did a rough calculation to work out that I'd have to live for 5 years after the pension to make the transaction a netto win for me. That seemed likely given a great grand-mother of 103, grandmother of 108 and a mother still functional and independent at 96.

TCD [Formally known as The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin / Coláiste Thríonóid Naofa Neamhroinnte na Banríona Eilís gar do Bhaile Átha Cliath] were far more magisterial in their response - indeed we didn't hear anything for more than 6 months . . . then a lot of excuses and finally . . . an accounting. I owed TCD €29.72 and also had some fully paid up contributions. If I sent them a cheque for €29.72 they would send my pension rights to The Institute for consolidation. The cheque had to be made out to:
"The University of Dublin Trinity College (closed) Pension Scheme 2009"
which is the longest payee name I've ever encountered - it didn't fit on the line available.  The upshot is that between 2002 and 2012, I accumulated 5.034 years of service including the fragment bought for €29.72 a couple of weeks ago.

5.034 years? That final 4 seems spuriously accurate: a single day of service in 1/365 = 0.0027 while two days service is 0.0055. It looks as if TCD believes I finished my last day at lunchtime and they're damned-well not going to pay pension for the final afternoon on the assumption that I spent it in an alcoholic haze unfit to push a pram let alone push the frontiers of science. That's why they call her Trinity of the Generous Hand.

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