independent

Friday 18 April 2014

ESB workers have revealed plans for crippling all-out strike

Planning to turn off the lights: ESB group of unions' secretary Brendan Ogle

ESB workers have revealed plans to mount a crippling all-out strike in just ten days’ time which will result in a complete shut-down of all power generation.

The unions’ dispute committee made the threat just hours before workers meet with management at secret talks, aimed at resolving a row over a €1.6bn hole in the company’s pension fund.

In a statement this morning, the ESB Unions Dispute Committee – which is separate from the Group of Unions which will engage in the talks – said it was mounting an all-out strike in the row over plans for the staff defined benefit pension plan.

Member of the committee said industrial action would take the form of an “all out” dispute from 8am on Monday, December 16, and included with full withdrawal of labour and the placing

of pickets.

“All ESB generated power will be off the bars from 8am on Monday December 16,” it said, adding emergency cover would be provided.

“Due regard has, and will continue to be, given to matters concerning public, staff and environmental health and safety. Therefore, where applicable and to be decided by the Dispute Committee, emergency cover for fault and repair services will be provided.”

The move ups the ante in an increasingly bitter dispute between works and management at the commercial semi-state power company.

ESB unions and management are expected to meet today at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) to avert industrial action, with both sides to meet at an undisclosed location.

The LRC said this morning it had not yet been told of the time and location of the meeting.

ESB union chief Brendan Ogle also said the group of unions would be making no public comment pending the outcome of discussions over a €1.6bn hole in the company’s pension fund.

In a message on his voicemail, he also said any disruption caused would be down to ESB management.

“If there is disruption to the public, ESB will be completely responsible,” it says. “In the meantime we have agreed to make no further comment during these sensitive negotiations.”

The row centres about changes to the pension scheme which, the union says, means workers could risk losing their entitlements because of a deficit in the fund. The Government has said the scheme is well funded, and the deficit will be addressed over the coming years.

There are concerns that homes and businesses could be left without power in the run-up to Christmas, with retailers and business groups also warning that any cut-offs could result in job losses.

While contingency plans are in place, more than one in four homes could be plunged into darkness because there will not be sufficient power to meet demand, as ESB generators produce about half of all our electricity needs.

The move to the LRC came after Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte urged both sides to engage in talks, which prompted the lead of the LRC, Kieran Mulvey, to write to both sides offering to mediate.

The ESB said it was committed to resolving the issues to avoid any disruption.

In a statement last night, the group of unions said it had been presented with a “so-called offer” by management at 5pm yesterday which would “infuriate every union member” of the defined benefit pension scheme.

Among the proposals, it said, were moves to put some of the liability onto the State which “neither deserves nor should carry any of this burden” and failed to address concerns about the scheme being treated as a defined contribution instead of a defined benefit scheme – which would result in lower payments.

“This proposal was rejected in its totality by the ESB Unions in exercise of their mandate which is to protect and maintain our current agreements in relation to our member’s bought and paid for pension rights,” it said.

Paul Melia

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