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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Union won't consider any pay cuts if ESB is sold

Anne-Marie Walsh Industry Correspondent

THE largest union at the ESB will only consider a pay cut for staff earning an average €75,500 a year if the Government promises not to sell it off.

UNITE, which represents 3,000 workers at the national electricity supplier, said it would fight any attempt to slash wages ahead of a sale.

Unions came out firing yesterday after Minister for Public Sector Reform Brendan Howlin promised to review pay at the commercial semi-states.

He admitted people would be shocked at the high levels of pay revealed in a new report.

As they are not directly employed by the State, staff at the commercial semi-states escaped the public sector pay cut and the pension levy that reduced wages by an average of almost 14pc.

The McCarthy semi-state review revealed that average basic pay at the ESB is €75,500, but rises to €94,300 when employer pension contributions are counted in.

It also showed basic pay averaged €95,600 at the Irish Aviation Authority; €83,400 at Eirgrid; and €59,700 at RTE.

When asked if ESB staff would be willing to volunteer for a pay cut, UNITE said it would not enter talks if privatisation was being considered.

"Why would we cut or slash our members' pay and conditions just so those companies would be more attractive to venture capitalists?" asked the union's regional officer Richie Browne.

"We would resist this. Pay for our members is not set by the Government, it's set by the employer. As far as we're concerned, we have collective agreements and we expect those to be honoured in full.

"If any employer has any difficulty in meeting their payroll obligations they would ordinarily sit down with the unions to discuss it.

"If there is a good business case, management would have to outline it, and it would not be done just at the whim of a minister," he added.

Meanwhile, the IMPACT union said "nobody could stand over" the excessive salaries paid to chief executives in some state bodies.

But it said it was "simplistic to conclude that everyone in the commercial state sector is overpaid", and added the McCarthy report did not draw this conclusion.

"It would be a shame if the pay issue were to displace a much-needed debate about the risks of selling strategic assets which, while in state ownership, can be managed and developed in the interests of citizens," said a spokesman.


But the Irish Small and Medium Enterprise Association described the semi-state pay revelations as "scandalous".

It said the blame lay squarely with semi-state boards which allowed pay rates to get out of control. The employer group said the lack of board expertise and fear of taking on the public sector unions had resulted in the taxpayer paying a premium for wages.

It claimed there was a parallel universe in the sector when average pay, including pensions, was over €94,000 in the ESB, while the country was bankrupt and unemployment was over 450,000.

It urged the Government's proposed review body to benchmark semi-state pay against comparable rates abroad.

Irish Independent

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