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Sparks fly over free electricity for all ESB staff

ESB staff are enjoying free electricity worth up to €470 each a year at a time when the hugely profitable power supplier is cutting off thousands of hard-pressed customers.

A row erupted last night after it emerged that the little-known staff perk applies to all 5,800 ESB workers -- including its €700,000-a-year boss.

Beneficiaries are understood to include the top earning executives, and the scheme entitles them to 55pc off a maximum of 1,000 units of electricity per bi-monthly bill.

News of the scheme comes as the ESB disconnects 8,000 to 9,000 homes per annum because customers are unable to pay their bills. The firm caused outrage earlier this year when it referred to cutting people off as "de-energising" customers.

While discounts are common for semi-state company staff - the scheme will be a public relations headache for the company which has already come under fire for the high salaries its top executives are paid. The 3.5pc salary increase paid to 4,000 ESB staff in the past year also caused uproar.

ESB boss Padraig McManus is the highest paid boss of a state-owned company and has an annual remuneration package of €750,000.

The Government is currently reviewing the salaries of the top executives against the backdrop of the €85bn IMF/EU bailout.

And a recent survey revealed that workers in semi-state companies earned an average of €130 a week more than private sector employees.

Yesterday, Fine Gael energy spokesperson Leo Varadkar insisted ESB staff are getting free electricity. "While the ESB is cutting off power to vulnerable people who cannot pay their bills, it is giving free electricity units to senior managers and executives and retired executives," he told the Dail.


Mr Varadkar was referring to the "ESB discount scheme" which has been in place since 1981.

"The scheme offers limited discounts on limited consumption, up to a maximum of 1,000 units per bi-monthly billing period," a spokesman told the Irish Independent.

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"It is open to every staff member to take advantage of it. More than 99.9pc of employees are currently doing this."

Mr Varadkar later said that any discount is not appropriate and branded it a disgrace.

Energy Minister Eamon Ryan told the Dail yesterday that disconnection fees for electricity and utility fees will be halved later this year.

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