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Tuesday 21 May 2019

ESB staff in line for extra pay even if they strike

ESB Group of Unions general secretary Brendan Ogle
ESB Group of Unions general secretary Brendan Ogle

ESB staff will get an additional payment worth hundreds of euro in their pay packets next month, regardless of whether they go on strike or not.

The extra payment, which can be worth up to €450 to an employee on the ESB's average salary of €65,000, is traditionally made each December in the run-up to Christmas.

The money will be paid despite ESB group of unions leader Brendan Ogle insisting yesterday that there was "no gravy" left in the group, after he had described workers in the company just two years ago as being "spoilt".

Staff have threatened industrial action from December 16, which could plunge the country into a blackout unless management and staff hammer out an agreement aimed at resolving a row over a €1.6bn deficit in the staff pension scheme.

But despite the ill-feeling among workers who voted for strike action, thousands of them can expect to receive the extra payment next month.

The annual salary boost dates back to a 1996 agreement on costs and competitiveness and it is not expected to be withdrawn by the company, despite the looming industrial action.

The payment is known as a CCR (Cost and Competitiveness Review) and is a flat-rate sum linked to profitability. It is subject to tax and is not treated as a bonus.

Both sides met yesterday for what was described as a "very robust meeting" but failed to broker a deal in the long-standing row over pensions.

The talks broke up last night and the parties are still "very far apart", according to Mr Ogle.

He said the four unions would issue notice of industrial action at 2pm today, which means industrial action could hit from Monday, December 16.

The ESB said in a statement: "There was an open and frank

exchange of views and significant differences remain between the parties. Both parties have agreed to engage in intensive dialogue focused on addressing these differences."

The unions claim that management is obliged to plug the deficit in the pension scheme, which management denies.

Mr Ogle said a deal to address the pensions crisis two years ago resulted in cuts to workers' benefits of 30pc, coupled with pay cuts and pay pauses.

However, he added that dialogue would continue and the row could still be resolved.

At the meeting yesterday, the unions accused "highly paid" executives of bringing the "once well-managed company" to an unprecedented crisis.

In a document presented to management, they said: "You have broken faith with staff and exposed them and their representatives to public attack" and they called on management to "consider your positions".

Despite the trenchant stance from the group of unions at the moment, some sources suggested that tensions would emerge within the group as December 16 draws nearer.

The unions can expect a huge public backlash if they choose to engage in any disruptive industrial action at the darkest, coldest time of year and just a week before Christmas.

Mr Ogle has long been a controversial figure, particularly following comments he made in 2011, when he described ESB workers as "spoiled" and said they had got used to "gravy" being poured from above.

He told RTE yesterday he had apologised to workers for his comments and that things had changed. "The gravy is gone," he said. "Because what nobody says and nobody invited me in the studios to say at the time, since that (comment) was made I and my colleagues sat down and agreed a 20pc pay cut in ESB.


"I have apologised to the ESB workers for making (those comments). I apologised because I was wrong and I let the ESB workers down."

However, workers are still set to enjoy the benefits of the Cost and Competitiveness Review payment.

Management withheld profit-related payments worth around €2,000 from staff last year when talks on an agreement over payroll cuts stalled for several months.

But the Irish Independent has learned that no move is being made to freeze additional pay during the current dispute. Staff have been assured they will get the extra payment.

Although a myriad of productivity and bonus payments got the chop last year in a deal to cut €140m from the company's payroll, the CCR payment survived. The taxable sum is a flat-rate, inflation-linked payment from gross profits.

It is not considered a bonus payment but is classified as "ongoing additional pay". It is only paid once a year.

Sources said the payment was due to be made in the middle of next month, around the time the action is set to begin.

Mr Ogle confirmed that management had not made any moves to withhold payments.

"The company hasn't threatened us about withholding payments," he said.

"We haven't received any such communication. I don't think withdrawing people's wages is a good way to settle a dispute -- if they want to settle a dispute."

Shane Phelan and Paul Melia

Online Editors

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