Switching supplier won't stop us from cutting your power - ESB union chief
SWITCHING energy suppliers will not spare customers from the potential of blackouts, the head of the ESB group of unions has said.
Brendan Ogle warned that moving companies "won't make a blind bit of difference" should industrial action lead to power outages.
He made the comments after retail industry body Retail Excellence Ireland (REI) said that its members would withdraw support from ESB/Electric Ireland and move to other suppliers if strike action goes ahead next month.
Mr Ogle pointed out that ESB Networks was responsible for delivering power to indi-vidual properties, regardless of which company supplied the home or business.
"The electricity system requires people to work it and if those people are forced into industrial action, the electricity system isn't going to work, or it isn't going to work as efficiently as it worked," he said.
"It makes no difference who your energy supplier is. You could be an ESB customer somewhere and not be affected or you could be a competitor's customer somewhere and be affected. It is as random as that."
Mr Ogle's comments came after REI moved to put pressure on the ESB to resolve the dispute, which threatens to severely impact on trade.
REI chief executive David Fitzsimons said it would actively assist its members to change providers in the New Year, should next month's strike proceed.
Moving suppliers may not spare customers from blackouts, but there is little doubt the withdrawal of REI members would severely impact on Electric Ireland's profits next year.
The industry group represents over 1,100 retail companies, who operate 11,000 stores around the country.
Mr Fitzsimons accused ESB staff of having "no understanding of the real world and the harsh economy we live in today".
"Trading over the Christmas period will determine whether businesses survive or cease to trade," he said.
Industrial action is set to begin on December 16, although what form it will take and the extent of the impact it will have has yet to be made clear.
While the ESB group of unions has given "an absolute commitment" there will be no power outages at Christmas, it has refused to give the same assurances for the busy pre-Christmas shopping period.
ESB employees voted for industrial action in a bid to force the company to take action over a €1.6bn deficit in its pension fund.
Efforts to resolve the dispute should gather pace this week, with two meetings scheduled between unions and management.
The first meeting, taking place this afternoon, will involve technical issues relating to the pension fund.
It will involve representatives of the company and unions; trustees of the pension fund, and officials from four government departments.
However, the issue of the proposed industrial action will not come centre stage until Thursday, when the unions will meet ESB chief executive Pat O'Doherty and the company's executive directors.
"I would say to Retail Excellence Ireland and everyone who runs a business and every consumer, the parties will be engaging from Thursday, hopefully intensively, to bring this crisis to an end," said Mr Ogle.
"We are meeting with the people in the ESB who earn the big money. These are the people who make the big decisions and these are the people who have the power to fix this problem.
"We want them to earn their money and stand behind the staff pension scheme and resolve this dispute before it goes any further."
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said that industrial action and losing power for even a day would be "very serious".
"This seems to be a very unnecessary dispute. There are a lot of pension funds in Ireland that are in trouble; the ESB is not one of them," he said.
But he is confident that no strike action will take place, saying it had been "a long time" since the lights went out in Ireland.