Christmas power cuts loom as ESB row rumbles on

ACTION: Brendan Ogle

Luke Byrne

THE prospect of a dark Christmas is nearing as ESB staff continue to row over the company's pension fund deficit.

Unions at the energy provider have set a date of December 16 to begin shutting off the power, should the issue, which could see workers' retirements devastated, fail to be resolved.

The confrontation between management and workers centres on a €1.6bn deficit in the pension fund for the company's workers.

Notice of industrial action will be served on the company on November 29 and will expire at 8am on December 16.

Earlier this week, secretary of the ESB group of unions, Brendan Ogle, said it was "very difficult" to envisage industrial action that does not have an actual or a threatened effect on power supplies.

The outcome of a recent ballot showed nearly nine out of every ten ESB workers voted in favour of industrial action.

The exact structure of any industrial action has not been agreed, however the group has agreed to accept an invitation to talks issued by ESB management last week. The ESB group of unions and bosses at the energy supplier have been negotiating over how to deal with a €1.6bn hole in the semi-state body's pension scheme.

Any power outages would severely disrupt business in the key period before Christmas and cause havoc for families and the elderly as the cold December weather hits.

Mr Ogle has said strike action would only occur if the company fails to account for the €1.6bn hole.

He dismissed claims that taxpayers' money would be used to shore up the pension plan.

"As far as we are concerned, the liability for the scheme lies fairly and squarely with the ESB," he said.

Eamon Timmins, spokesperson for Age Action Ireland, which represents elderly people, said any power outages would have a devastating effect on the "most vulnerable people" in society.


"There are also older people who are quite frail in this cold weather who depend on electricity for heating and cooking and we need to identify these people very quickly so this dispute doesn't result in extreme hardship and illness and possibly fatalities," he added.

He said he presumed the HSE would have a contingency plan in place for those workers dependent on electricity to operate life-saving machines such as ventilators and respirators.