OVER 1,600 former Bord Gais workers and pensioners are set to lose a fuel allowance worth up to €500 as the country braces for one of the worst winters in years.
The cost-cutting measure is being brought in from the end of the year.
Existing staff will be offered €800 compensation to buy out the cheap fuel allowance, which is worth between €250 and €500 a year, but now retired staff in receipt of a pension will get nothing.
Assistant General Secretary of the Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU), Arthur Hall, claimed pensioners have become a punch bag for companies trying to make savings on the cheap.
"Pensioners have no rights," he told his union's biennial conference in Kilkenny.
"Nor can they go to the Labour Court or Labour Relations Commission. They are non-persons as far as the law or the industrial relations machinery of the state are concerned."
He said the pensioners, who conceded the productivity in the first place and need the allowance most, are being offered no compensation.
He said changes in the pension rules are "supposed to make them more equitable" but has seen major companies target the group on limited income.
He said it was an urgent matter for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Government and groups representing the elderly to address.
He said pensioners had already suffered the pension levy, which cut their benefits by 6pc.
"Otherwise, the message we are sending out is that people have no value when they become too old," he said.
Current employees are expected to reject the proposals.
Ervia said a discount for gas and electricity was available to staff following a Labour Court recommendation in 2001.
A spokesperson said as part of the sale of Bord Gais Energy last June, an agreement was made that this would discontinue from the end of next month.
However, the TEEU disputes that there was an agreement and has referred the row to the Labour Relations Commission.
The Ervia spokesperson said no staff in its Irish Water subsidiary "do, or will get" a water allowance.
Meanwhile, the TEEU conference heard that workers have to wait up to three years for their case to come before the Equality Tribunal. They have to wait up to 18 months for unfair dismissals cases at the Employment Appeals Tribunal.
Director of Conciliation Services at the Labour Relations Commission, Kevin Foley, said the Government hopes to reduce the backlog for complaints to up to six months.
The Workplace Relations Bill will streamline the number of state bodies hearing cases and allow staff and their employers to complete one form to have a hearing.
Employment law experts also raised concerns about new collective bargaining legislation, as they pointed out the number of workers required to trigger the new legislation will be crucial.