ESB's €75,500 staff 'spoilt' -- admits union chief
'Gravy' speech revealed as 12pc price hike announced
Published 27/08/2011 | 05:00
THE most senior union official at state-owned ESB has been caught on camera admitting the workers he represents are "spoilt".
Brendan Ogle, secretary of the group of unions representing more than 7,000 workers at the energy provider, said the staff had got used to "gravy" being poured from above.
Workers at ESB enjoy average salaries of €75,500 a year, which are worth €94,300 when generous pension contributions are included.
Details of Mr Ogle's comments came as ESB announced yesterday it is hiking its prices by 12pc from October, adding about €120 a year to its 1.2 million customers' bills.
The company blamed the hike on a 40pc rise in international wholesale gas prices over the last year.
Addressing the militant republican organisation Eirigi, Mr Ogle said governments had doled out perks, including overtime, to avoid strikes "once they got the trade unions in their back pocket".
Mr Ogle's admission of the semi-state workers' "privileged" position has come to light as householders are once again being stung by rising electricity prices.
In his address, Mr Ogle described himself and his semi-state members as "privileged and very lucky" but said that there was "nothing wrong with that", although he often told them they were "spoilt".
"You wouldn't know it listening to them some of the time but they are very privileged and lucky," he said.
He mentioned an "after-hours work scheme" and overtime examples of the lavish "gravy" that ESB workers had grown accustomed to during the boom.
He said people who worked in good jobs were suddenly in great jobs, had their mortgages paid off, bought apartments in Bulgaria, had two or three cars, and were sending their children to private schools.
Officials at his UNITE union said they were not aware of the content of the speech, but insisted Mr Ogle was not speaking in his capacity as a union official.
They stressed the speech was made in a personal capacity at the Eirigi meeting, which was called to oppose EU and IMF cutbacks.
Mr Ogle told the audience there was a real opportunity for ESB workers to say "enough is enough" because of their power to turn out the lights should the Government try to break up the company.
"But I've got a problem with the people that I represent who have power, because they also have money," he continued.
"They're also -- and they won't mind me saying this because I say it to them often enough -- they're also spoilt."
He singled out the Fianna Fail-led government of recent years for doling out perks.
"The thing that the right-wing FF and PD government needed, once they got the trade unions in their back pocket, the thing they needed the most was industrial peace.
"And the way they got that (was) to throw a bit of gravy around the place."
But he was also highly critical of the Labour Party, which he said was "so right-wing, they think the most right-wing Labour trade union movement in Europe is too left-wing for them".
He remembered telling a group of ESB workers at a meeting in Letterkenny three years ago that the country was about to go bust, but they looked at him in disbelief.
Mr Ogle was also heavily critical of the trade union movement, which he described as "more right-wing than the unions in the US".
He ridiculed ICTU for organising a march against government cutbacks before Christmas when nobody was sitting in the Dail.
He also said economist Colm McCarthy "made a b****x" of his recent report on the sale of state assets and claimed he "can't add".
UNITE said Mr Ogle was on annual leave and was not available for comment yesterday.
"Officials representing members at ESB were not aware of the speech," a spokesman said.
He emphasised that the speech was delivered before Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte pulled the plug on plans to break up the ESB.