Tuesday 19 February 2019

Employment blow for midlands as Bord na Móna announces 430 job losses

Bord na Móna has been transitioning away from peat towards more environmentally friendly forms of energy
Bord na Móna has been transitioning away from peat towards more environmentally friendly forms of energy

Anne Marie Walsh

MIDLANDS communities have been dealt a major blow after Bord na Mona announced 430 job losses as it winds down its peat business.

All the redundancies will be voluntary and staff will be offered an exit package.

There is no time frame for the plan as this will be negotiated with unions – but the company wants as many redundancies as possible over the next year.

The board has signed off on the restructuring plan that is part of the company’s ‘decarbonisation’ strategy.

This policy means it will use more environmentally-friendly forms of energy.

In a statement, Bord na Móna said it is beginning talks with staff on the possible reduction of between 380 and 400 managerial, administrative and peat operations roles.

It said it is accelerating decarbonisation and fast tracking renewable energy and “higher value” recycling, and will bring forward the end of energy peat.

However, it also said it is developing new businesses to support the low carbon economy and has identified potential to create up to 500 jobs across the Midlands “in the medium term”.

Chief Executive Tom Donnellan said decarbonisation is the biggest challenge facing this planet and standing still is not an option for Bord na Móna.

“While, decarbonisation means we must introduce a new structure it also means confronting some extremely difficult choices,” he said.

“It means that fewer people will be working in peat operations and also managerial and administrative roles across Bord na Móna.

“We will shortly open a voluntary redundancy programme, with the expectation that these changes could directly impact approximately 380-430 roles and employees. “

He said talks with the group of unions are underway.

“In the medium term, we will be increasing employment again in our new businesses but this is not to minimise the real short term challenges for people that flow from decarbonisation,” he said.

He said the company is embarking on a transition phase that will see it become a leading provider of renewable energy in Ireland by 2026.

It will become a leader in high value recycling and a provider of new low carbon goods and services, he added.

Unions were recently told that the commercial semi-state company plans to close 17 of 62 bogs where peat is harvested.

In 2015, Bord na Móna announced it would exit the peat-for-energy business by 2030.

Ten years ago, Bord na Móna pledged to stop opening new bogs and next year.

It also heralded the largest change in land use in modern Irish history for 125,000 acres of bogland, to be used for renewal energy, eco-tourism and "community amenities".

But former CEO Mike Quinn promised the business would remain rooted in the bogs.

The company is also offering domestic fuel and horticultural products, and has increased the co-firing of peat and biomass at Edenderry Power Station.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment said it remains committed to the company.

“The Department remains committed to the long-term sustainability of Bord na Móna and is currently working with the company to ensure its business model adapts to meet the needs of Ireland’s changing economy,” it said in a statement.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen called for a Sustainable Transition Forum to support the workers must be set up.

He said the government cannot wash its hands of this “devastating blow”.

“The Government cannot just leave this region and in particular these communities on its own after such an announcement,” he said.

He said he has written to the Taoiseaach asking for his support in setting up a forum and to EU commissioners for a meeting to discuss how Eu funds can support them.

“Fianna Fáil believes that a Sustainable Transition Forum is desperately needed to alleviate the impact of the job losses, and to plan and prepare the local economy to make the transition to other forms of enterprise on old Bord na Móna bogs,” he said.

He said the forum would include representatives from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Bord na Móna, the ESB, the existing workforce, the local authorities, public representatives, Enterprise Ireland and research facilities.

The Unite union has threatened industrial action and warned that the government is sleepwalking into a crisis that will devastate the Midlands.

“While Unite and the Bord na Mona Group of Unions will be fully engaged in the consultation process, and will make every effort to work with all stakeholders to preserve the maximum number of jobs, if we do not receive progress reports and assurances in the short term, a major industrial dispute early next year would become inevitable,” said Regional Officer Colm Quinlan.

“We are determined to ensure that Bord na Móna, its workers and the communities they sustain do not pay the price for decarbonisation.”.

Online Editors

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