| 5.3°C Dublin

ESB union chief under growing pressure as TEEU quits

PRESSURE mounted on ESB union chief Brendan Ogle to step down last night in the wake of his claims that his members were "spoilt".

One of the largest unions at the state-owned energy supplier has decided to pull out of the ESB Group of Unions next week.

The Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU), which has almost 2,000 members in the ESB, has written to Mr Ogle informing him it plans to "suspend its membership" of the unions' umbrella body next Friday.

Mr Ogle, who is group secretary, angered members by claiming they were "spoilt" and enjoyed government "gravy" to prevent them going on strike -- in the form of an after-hours work scheme.

The controversial remarks were made in a speech to the republican socialist group Eirigi in May.

In its letter to Mr Ogle, seen by the Irish Independent, the TEEU says a delegate conference of its ESB representatives made the decision to leave the group at a meeting this week.

It states: "The TEEU membership is not prepared to participate in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions -- ESB Group of Unions in its current form."

TEEU general secretary Eamon Devoy confirmed yesterday that a ballot on the issue had concluded.

The letter comes after the ESB Officers' Association -- another member of the union group -- last week condemned its own leaders' decision to vote against Mr Ogle's suspension.

"The effect of the TEEU withdrawing from the Group of Unions could be that the group is no more," said a source.

"This could throw upcoming negotiations on cost cuts (at the ESB) into disarray and is very messy for the company."

It is understood that the TEEU's decision to leave the five-union group was taken following a ballot of members.

They were given two options in the vote: to leave the union group, or to seek disciplinary action if an investigation found Mr Ogle's comments were "detrimental" to the unions.

This is not the first time Mr Ogle has angered TEEU members with his remarks. Six years ago, the union demanded an apology after he described members as "blackleg" workers during an ESB strike over the use of outside contractors.

The ESB yesterday refused to comment on the TEEU decision. It has also made no comment on the furore, despite paying Mr Ogle's wages, believed to be more than €80,000 a year.

But sources said management is unlikely to relish opening talks on payroll savings of €140m in the coming weeks with a splintered union group.

It may also be asked to justify its position to workers in its Northern Ireland operations.

They are angered by the fact that Mr Ogle delivered his speech beside "Britain out of Ireland" posters.

Mr Ogle has apologised to workers but claims it was the reporting of his speech that "hurt" members, rather than his comments.

Irish Independent