ESB unions vow pre-Christmas strike if pension deficit talks fail

ESB workers will begin potentially disruptive industrial action from Dec 16 if no agreement is reached with management over how to resolve the €1.6bn deficit in the company’s pension scheme.

The constituent member bodies of the ESB group of unions will each lodge individual notices of industrial action upon the company next Friday.

That notice will expire on Dec 16 after which, if no resolution has been found, the industrial action could go ahead.

It has been well flagged that, as those who are in dispute with the company work on its generation and networks, any significant industrial action could mean a loss of power for householders in the run-up to Christmas. Sources have indicated that many within the unions’ ranks are adverse to causing disruption, but there is an overwhelming mandate for strikes — 87.5% voted in favour — if the pensions deficit cannot be addressed.

“ESB have breached our agreements and procedures by unilaterally describing the main staff pension scheme as a defined contribution scheme and stating that ‘ESB does not intend to make further payments to the scheme to address future deficits, no matter what the circumstance’,” the union group said in a statement yesterday.

ESB management has insisted that the pension scheme for its 4,000 employees, which is €1.6bn in deficit, remains defined benefit.

It insists it is only for accounting purposes that it treats the scheme as defined contribution.

However, it has insisted the scheme is not and never had been a “balance of cost” scheme, or one in which the employer is liable to meet the full cost of any deficit which may arise.

The group of unions — Unite, TEEU, Siptu, and ESU — said the sides are “in a serious industrial crisis brought about by ESB’s behaviour.

“The responsibility for any industrial/strike action lies firmly at the door of the most senior management in ESB,” it said in a message to management.

“In this regard affiliates will shortly serve notice of industrial/strike action on ESB following a resounding mandate from your staff whose pension scheme you seek to abandon.”

The group used that message to confirm it will be available to engage in talks with management scheduled by government officials for next Tuesday.

“This meeting should clarify the position regarding the application of the MFS [minimum funding standard] to this scheme and the reasons for the special ESB PRSI treatment which denies most members their state pension entitlements,” the unions said. They also sought a subsequent meeting with the company’s team of executive directors and its chief executive on Nov 28.

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