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Friday 22 September 2017

Pensioners and the elderly will be 'nervous' should ESB blackouts occur, Joan Burton warns ESB Unions

Minister for Social Protection also says the needs of workers should be considered too

ESB Union Group Secretary Brendan Ogle
ESB Union Group Secretary Brendan Ogle

PENSIONERS and the elderly "will feel very nervous" should they lose their heat, light and electricity before Christmas, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has warned.

Speaking on RTE Radio earlier today, Ms Burton said the needs of the elderly, the retired and the needs of those working should be considered.

“It’s also necessary to think about all of the people at work, particularly pensioners and retired people who, to be perfectly honest, would feel very nervous about any threat to heat and warmth and electricity supplies particularly in the period, or in the period coming up to Christmas or the period after Christmas."

Despite the looming threat of power blackouts in the days before Christmas, Ms Burton said she was confident the issue between management and the unions at the ESB could be resolved.

“I would be very confident that the disagreement can be sorted in the way disagreements have been sorted out over the years in the ESB between the employers and the trade unions.

Earlier on Today With Sean O'Rourke, ESB Union Group Secretary Brendan Ogle rejected suggestions that the threat of power blackouts ahead of Christmas is a “disproportionate” response to their pensions dispute. 

During the interview, Ogle insisted he “wasn’t hiding” from anybody and dismissed any suggestion that the threat of blackouts “was way out of proportion”.

A proposed date for the action is December 16th, less than 24 hours after the Troika officially leave the country.

Despite the defined pension scheme at the centre of the dispute growing by 18pc in 2012, and expected to be around another 18pc this year, Ogle insisted the scheme is at risk and will affect workers now.

He stressed that they can’t make assumptions that the scheme would continue to grow at such a rate, and therefore they had to take action now.

Rejecting the argument that such action was disproportionate, Ogle said he understood that news of the dispute and threatened action would come as a surprise to many people.

However, he told O’Rourke they had been involved in negotiations  for two years regarding the issue.

Ogle, who has his €80,000 salary paid for by the ESB, acknowledged that the public are “rightly” worried “by the threat of blackouts, for the first time in 22 years”.

“But the people who are being held to ransom are the members of this pension scheme who have fulfilled all obligations and entered into agreement to restructure this scheme and have taken the cutbacks,” he said.

He argued the present government and executives in ESB wanted to “kick the issue down the road”, when it could be dealt with in several years time when they are no longer there.

Excerpts from his controversial speech before Eirigi in May 2011 were also played on the programme.

During the speech, he described the ESB workers as being "spoilt".

He also said that ESB staff enjoyed government "gravy" through perks such as after-work schemes.

“I have sweated blood to represent my members, and I let them down on that occasion and I have apologised for it.

“But I am proud to represent and will represent them until their pension is restored,” he told O’Rourke.

When quizzed about what he had to say to other workers who would be affected by such blackouts days before Christmas

“To the rest of the workers, who may be impacted by this dispute, myself and colleagues can only represent the workers that we represent,” he said.

Referring to a case a number of ESB workers are taking to the High Court regarding their pensions, Mr Ogle said if they win, it would more than likely be appealed to the Supreme Court and could take another four years.

Irish Independent

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