New storm brewing at ESB over station sales
FURTHER industrial unrest could be on the cards at the ESB with its group of unions expected to formally restate its opposition to the sale of two power stations next week.
The Government had hoped that the weekend agreement between unions and management to resolve the row over the ESB pension scheme had killed off the prospect of strike action.
However, the head of the group of unions, Brendan Ogle, indicated a new campaign may be in the offing on the issue of the power station sales.
The ESB plans to sell off two peat-burning power stations in the midlands to help fund a €400m dividend which has been requested by the State.
Mr Ogle said he was alarmed that the impression was being given in the media that union opposition to the sales of the power plants had melted away. "If the ESB are going to raise the €400m by selling power stations, we'll have something to say about that," Mr Ogle told the Irish Independent.
A meeting has been arranged for next week with shop stewards at the stations, West Offaly Power in Shannonbridge, Co Offaly, and Lough Ree Power in Lanesborough, Co Longford.
Mr Ogle would not be drawn on whether there was an appetite for strike action, but said feelings were "running high in those stations".
He said the issue was likely to be another flashpoint.
"Now that the pensions issue has been resolved to our full satisfaction we will now get down to these sort of issues," he said. If it does lead to industrial unrest, it will not unravel the pension agreement, which Mr Ogle described as a "separate issue" and "rock solid".
He said the issue of the dividend or selling the power stations was never discussed during the pension talks. "The unions did not agree to selling power stations. It wasn't discussed. We haven't moved our position an inch on it," he said.
The ESB's board last month agreed that the two power stations could be put up for sale.
It is proposing to prospective buyers that they would continue to be operated along with their 82 staff. A 50pc stake held by the ESB in the Marchwood power station in England has already been sold and it is looking to sell its stake in a power company in Spain as part of the bid to raise the €400m.
An ESB spokeswoman declined to comment on the prospect of union opposition to the midland sales.
Unions previously agreed to the sales of power stations at Tarbert, Co Kerry, and Great Island in Co Wexford in 2008.
Mr Ogle said this was done to "protect jobs and keep power generation in those areas", adding: "That is not the case in the midlands. There is no such rationale in the midlands."
The Government will be anxious that the sales go well after setbacks to efforts to sell off other state assets as part of the troika bailout agreement.
Meanwhile, Mr Ogle ruled out any prospect that additional contributions would have to be made by staff to make up for any pension deficit in future.