Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou MacDonald has voiced her 'alarm’ at the actions of top ESB management and has called for Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte to address the situation “very quickly.”
“Minister Pat Rabbitte has questions to answer - bearing in mind the state still holds a 95pc stake in the ESB. The ESB is a very significant player in the Irish economy. I cannot understand how this happened,” she told RTE Radio 1.
Four ESB workers are currently involved in a legal challenge to the failure by the company to address the €1.6bn shortfall in their pension scheme.
“He may be somewhat constrained legally," said Ms MacDonald of the minister, "But he needs to come out very quickly and address what is a very serious situation for the entire Irish economy. I intend raising it in the Dail during the week I think this is too serious to be simply let go.”
Brian Baitson, William Flavin, Owen Kilmurray, and Margaret O’Connor began working with the ESB on varying dates since 1978. They are concerned at the ESB’s insistence that the pension scheme is now a “defined-contribution” rather than a “defined benefit” one, which means what a person receives on retirement is no longer guaranteed, the Commercial Court heard earlier this month.
ESB unions expect a result from a ballot of members on a proposal to take industrial action over the €1.6bn deficit in the State-owned company’s pension scheme by 18 November.
Uncovered email correspondence between top managers in the firm has recently revealed that they were aware of the fact that workers were opposed to the accounting change that essentially moves the risk from the company onto the workers.
Yet, they went ahead with the move regardless, which is “very worrying,” said Ms MacDonald.
“It seems that ESB management moved ahead with the accountancy treatment of the pension fund – which has always been understood as a defined benefit scheme – despite the fact that they had no agreement with their workers or their unions.”
Brendan Ogle, the secretary of the ESB group of unions (GOU), has said that the GOU did not contact auditors for the accountancy change, KPMG, as “we’ve viewed contact with the auditors unnecessary”. He said he was “aware that ESB were under obligation to disclose any Group of Union’s demand regarding pensions to KPMG.”
Ms MacDonald said she would be “very alarmed if Minister Rabbitte allowed those accounts in 2010 to go through 'on the nod' understanding the significance of it or allowed them to go through and didn’t understand the significance of it”.
“Those workers are looking at a scenario that they are making contributions to a pension scheme with no guarantee of a decent pension at the end of it. And these workers are not entitled to a state pension because of the nature of the ESB scheme,” she said.