Union: Coillte merger ‘would weaken company and cut jobs’

A trade union representing workers at Coillte has claimed its proposed merger with Bord na Móna would leave the State forest company considerably weakened, with the potential loss of 100 jobs.

A report commissioned by Impact claims the proposal would see Coillte with a “small and relatively weak voice” within a much larger company.

Impact’s Coillte branch expressed concern that there would be a rebalancing of Coillte’s priorities following a merger which would probably see wood being diverted to energy use rather than maintaining its most economically advantageous use.

“This would seriously weaken Coillte’s economic base with consequences for its ability to sustain its social and environmental functions, including access to State forests for recreation and tourism,” the report concluded.

It claims a merger would place pressure on Coillte to provide wood biomass for Bord na Móna’s electricity power plants which are obliged to ensure that 30% of all energy generated comes from renewable sources by 2015.

The report warns that the demand for biomass in Bord na Mona’s peat burning power stations could jeopardise over 100 jobs at Coillte’s panel board processing plants in Clonmel and Waterford.

Coillte’s acting chief executive, Gerry Britchfield, told the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture yesterday that there were “significant differences” between the two State companies.

Mr Britchfield said an analysis of the costs, risks and opportunities for Coillte in the proposed merger had only identified a small number of areas where the two businesses overlapped, particularly in the area of wind energy.

The Coillte executive said both companies had different products, customers and routes to market. However, he acknowledged that there were savings to be achieved through a reduction in overheads that would arise from a merger.

Both Coillte and Bord na Móna have recently submitted separate reports on the planned merger to NewERA, the State agency established to oversee reform of the commercial semi-state bodies, which are understood to have identified savings of around €20m. It follows the Government decision earlier this year not to proceed with the controversial proposal not to sell off Coillte’s harvesting rights.

NewERA is due to finalise and submit its own report on the merger to the Government by Dec 6.

Mr Britchfield said it was unlikely that there would be any change in Coillte’s current growth strategies whether the merger went ahead or not.

He also confirmed that his predecessor, David Gunning, who left Coillte in March, is suing the company over the terms of his departure from the business and claims he is still owed money.

Mr Gunning was one of the highest paid chief executives of a semi-state company with annual earnings of up to €489,000.


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