Industrial dispute could have ‘significant effect’ on power

The secretary of the ESB’s group of unions has admitted any strikes by the workers would have a “significant effects” on the country’s power supply.

Brendan Ogle said the officials who voted in favour of strike action represent workers across the ESB system, generation, and networks. The ballot was overwhelming with 87.5% backing industrial action on an 81% turnout.

“If they withdraw their labour I have no doubt there would be a disruption to service. What effect that would have, how long that would be and how damaging it would be to the people across the country remains to be seen.

“It is hard to see a dispute in ESB that does not have significant effects on power supply.”

He said staff had taken a 30% cut on their pension benefits as part of a previous deal to address the pensions deficit.

“The ink was not dry on that agreement when ESB unilaterally began describing and treating the [defined benefit] scheme as defined contribution,” he told RTÉ Radio.

“This is a statutory scheme. This is not an employer, like many employers, which is struggling to staying in business. This is an employer whose profits next year will be in excess of €620m which has unilaterally transferred €1.6m in risk onto the shoulders of 4,000 workers.”

ESB has said it is only treating the scheme as defined contribution for accounting purposes. It has said the scheme is not “balance of cost”, or one in which the employer must absorb responsibility for a deficit.

It has said: “ESB is not liable for the full amount of any deficit which may arise... ESB did not therefore place a liability on its balance sheet that did not properly belong there.”

Mr Ogle said the average pension of an ESB worker — who is not entitled to a state pension — in a wind-up situation based on ESB’s accounts is €13 per week after paying into a pension scheme for 30 years. He said the people represented by the group of unions are “the most disadvantaged workers in terms of pension rights the public service, state, and semi-state sector”.

The unions are angry that the company is continuing with dividend payments worth more than €470m at a time when its pension scheme is so far in deficit.


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