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ESB WORKERS have voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action in a dispute with the government over the €1.6bn deficit in the State-owned electricity company's pension fund.

Seven out of every eight of those who voted did so in favour of industrial action.

The vote by ESB workers means that the threat of power cuts over the Christmas period is now a very real possibility.

The ESB workers are objecting to the fact that the company paid a €78m dividend to the State over the summer, despite the pension fund deficit, and the proposed payment of a further €400m to the state from the sale of certain ESB assets.

However, the same workers seem to have chosen to ignore the fact that their employer injected a €591m lump sum into the pension fund in 2010. According the ESB, this payment absolves it of any further responsibility for the pension fund deficit.

Reading between the lines of this dispute it's difficult not to conclude that the ESB workers need to get real.

With all of us living longer and the poor investment returns of recent years the traditional employer-guaranteed final salary pension is rapidly going the way of the dodo. Most private sector employers have long since closed their final salary pension schemes to new entrants.

But somehow this message is not getting through to cosseted ESB workers.


They are behaving like spoilt brats, throwing the toys out of the pram when they don't get their way. And no, this isn't just me speaking.

In May 2011 Brendan Ogle, the secretary of the ESB group of unions, was secretly recorded describing his membership as "spoilt". Who are we to argue with the great man?

Over the years the ESB trade unions have ruthlessly exploited the fact that they can turn off the lights to boost their pay of their members to extravagant heights.

The average ESB worker is now paid almost €72,000 a year, more than twice average private sector earnings.

If the ESB workers are so concerned about the pension fund deficit they why don't they volunteer to increase their contributions? After all, given what they are paid it's not as if they are short of a bob or three.

This Government and its predecessors have gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid politically- damaging public sector strikes.

Instead, they have bent over backwards through such deals as Croke Park and Haddington Road to keep the public sector trade unions on side.

Even when individual groups of public sector workers such as those at Dublin Bus and the secondary school teachers have threatened to go off the reservation, the Government has moved might and main to keep them on side.


Unfortunately this softly-softly approach was certain to eventually run into a brick wall. Sooner or later a group of public sector workers would seek to defy the Government. That moment has now arrived following the vote by the ESB workers.

In fact it could be argued that, if such a showdown was inevitable, then the Government should ensure that it picked a fight with the least popular group of public sector workers.

Whether by accident or design this is exactly what seems to have happened. If there is a less popular group of public sector workers than those in the ESB then I have yet to be made aware of their existence.

The Government should call the ESB workers' bluff. Put the whole company, not just individual assets, up or sale and see how these pampered creatures like it in the hire-and-fire private sector.