Firms ask staff to work extra shifts ahead of blackout threat
MANUFACTURING companies are asking staff to work additional shifts over the next fortnight so they can ensure pre-Christmas orders are met even if ESB workers go ahead with strike action.
The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) said companies were so worried about potential power cuts they were requesting staff to do extra work.
ISME chief executive Mark Fielding said firms manufacturing white goods, such as kitchen appliances, were rushing to meet export orders for the UK and elsewhere amid fears of blackouts after December 16.
"A number of companies have told us they made this request to their staff and to a man everybody said yes," he said.
The development comes as unions and management prepare for substantive talks on the planned strike.
ESB employees voted earlier this month for industrial action in a bid to force the company to take action over a €1.6bn deficit in its pension fund.
Some discussions were held yesterday on technical matters, with the meeting also attended by officials from four government departments.
But talks on the strike issue only get under way tomorrow.
The head of the ESB group of unions, Brendan Ogle, told the Irish Independent that the government officials had ruled out any intervention at yesterday's discussions. "They clarified there is no role for the Government or the taxpayer in this dispute," he said.
Earlier, a spokeswoman for the ESB acknowledged that a threat by Retail Excellence Ireland (REI), which represents 11,000 stores around the country, to change to other energy suppliers in the new year if the strike goes ahead could have serious implications for the company.
"It would be a very serious situation for the ESB if we started to lose customers at that rate," she said, adding, "but it is understandable that is how they might feel."
The spokeswoman would not be drawn on whether the ESB would bring anything new to the table at tomorrow's talks.
"We are doing everything in our power to address the issues and to resolve the issues. The sides need to meet and discuss it. I don't think it is something that can be negotiated across the media," she said.
Mr Fielding ruled out the prospect of ISME's 9,000 members following the lead of REI in changing suppliers.
But he said the strike was the last thing the country needed with the "economy on its knees". He said it would damage our international reputation and consumer confidence.
If the strike does go ahead ISME said it would be seeking "national emergency legislation" that would prohibit strikes in essential services.
Simon McKeever, chief executive of the Irish Exporters Association, said he knew of businesses that were buying generators in a bid to keep going in the event of power cuts.
"A potential strike would not only turn out the Christmas lights but would also turn out the only light in the Irish economy at the moment -- exports," he said.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the threat of strike action was the "last thing" the public wanted to see. He said the threat was "damaging" and added that the prospect of disruption to the electricity supply was causing "unease and concern". He called on unions and workers to engage fully and constructively in talks with management.