Power cuts could be on cards in ESB dispute, union chief warns
Power cuts could be on the cards for ESB customers before Christmas, their union chief has admitted.
Speaking on RTE's Morning Ireland earlier today, the Secretary of the ESB group of unions Brendan Ogle said it was hard to see how industrial action in the ESB would not have an impact on service for businesses and households.
"The members who voted yesterday represented workers across the system – generation and networks.
“If those workers were to withdraw their labour, I’ve no doubt that there would be a disruption to service.
“What effect that would have, how long it would be and how damaging it would be to people across the country remains to be seen and all efforts must be made to resolve this dispute.
“But certainly it is hard to see a dispute in the ESB that does not have any effects on power supply," he warned.
While confirming that the average wage for an ESB employee is €65,000, Mr Ogle said this dispute was not about wage, but about pensions.
He said that ESB workers had agreed a 20pc paycut last year, before claiming that staff there were the most "disadvantaged in terms of their pension rights" in semi-state and state bodies.
Workers at the electricity supplier are poised for industrial action in the escalating row over a €1.6bn hole in the pension scheme.
Union groups will decide on Friday whether to serve notice of the action on the company, after more than 87pc of members voted "overwhelmingly" for the move.
Last night, a spokesperson for the Unite union declined to say what form industrial action at the company might take.
Brendan Ogle, secretary of the ESB group of unions, has previously said the action would be aimed in part at preventing the ESB from handing over €600m in dividend payments to the Government, while the company is simultaneously failing to support the group pension scheme.
In a brief statement, the ESB said it was "disappointed" at the outcome of yesterday's ballot.
The company acknowledged the "potentially serious impact" of this situation for customers and pledged to "continue to work to resolve the issues directly with the Group of Unions through the established procedures".
The overall result of the ballot in the group of unions was 87.5pc in favour of industrial action, with 12.5pc against.
In the Unite union, the vote in favour of action was as high as 89pc.
Unite Official Richie Browne said the overwhelming result indicates the "strength of feeling" over unilateral changes to the staff pension scheme and stated that union members were determined to defend their pension rights.
The issue centres on the ESB's decision to change the staff's defined benefit pension scheme to a defined contribution scheme and the company's assertion that, as a result, it has no liability for current or future pension deficits.
Balloting of Unite members started on 24 October and concluded yesterday, with more than 1,100 Unite members participating.
Workers are opposing the company's decision to pay a dividend of €78m to the State during the summer while the deficit remains outstanding.
The company is also expected to pay a special dividend of €400m to the Exchequer following the sale of certain assets.
ESB management insists there is no pension crisis at the semi-state, and that staff and workers agreed a pension rescue deal in 2010.
It insists the change in how the pension liability is accounted for in annual accounts came about after a deal agreed with unions and pensions trustees.