HOUSEHOLDERS face the prospect of power cuts from November if ESB workers take strike action over a €1.6bn hole in the company's pension fund.
Some 7,000 workers will be balloted for industrial action over the coming weeks, after which a decision will be taken on mounting an all-out strike which will affect power supply.
Secretary of the ESB group of unions, Brendan Ogle, said last night it was "difficult" to see how householders and businesses would not be affected if workers decided to engage in an all-out strike.
"It would be very hard to imagine a dispute that won't affect power generation," he said.
"The last time there was a strike contemplated of this scale was in 1991, a time when the ESB was the generator of all power. In terms of power generation, ESB does not have the majority of power generation in the country. But all of the electricity arrives in people's homes and businesses through ESB networks.
"It's action that will involve almost every ESB worker in the State. It won't be limited to a particular part of the business. If there is an all-out strike it will affect power supply. It's impossible to predict what scale."
The row centres on a €1.6bn deficit in the pension scheme which has been substantially restructured in recent years.
Some 200 shop stewards from the group of unions, which includes SIPTU and Unite, unanimously passed a motion over the weekend to conduct a ballot for industrial action, up to and including strike action.
They claim the dispute centres on a decision by management to change the staff defined-benefit scheme to a defined-contribution scheme, and that the company has said it has no liability for current or future pension deficits.
Mr Ogle said the decision was made without agreement, and that transferring all the risk to workers was an "attack on their pension rights".
The company refused to comment.
"We're not looking for the company to engage with the unions," Mr Ogle said.
"We had a two-year engagement with them. We're looking for the company to revert to recognising the scheme as a DB scheme and to recognise their responsibility in relation to the deficit."
A special meeting will be held on Thursday to co-ordinate the ballot. It will take three to four weeks to ballot workers, the results of which would be available at the end of next month.
Assuming workers agree to industrial action, a decision on whether it will amount to an all-out strike will be taken in early November.