Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Strike threat in ESB pensions row

Three unions have agreed to issue separate warnings of industrial action to take place if the ESB row over pensions cannot be resolved.
Three unions have agreed to issue separate warnings of industrial action to take place if the ESB row over pensions cannot be resolved.

Union leaders at energy giant ESB have given management three weeks to try to resolve a bitter dispute over pensions and stop the threat of blackouts from a strike.

Three unions have agreed to issue separate warnings of industrial action to take place from 8am on Monday December 16 if the row cannot be resolved.

The Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU), Unite, Siptu, the Union of Construction Allied Trades and Technicians (Ucatt) and the Energy Services Union have said they will attend a meeting with ESB bosses next Thursday.

If talks fail over the next three weeks Ireland is facing the prospect of an ESB strike and possibly power cuts.

The type of threatened industrial action has not been detailed by the unions.

But Arthur Hall, acting general secretary of the TEEU, said the Government and management of the energy giant have to take decisive action to prevent a strike.

"The thinking behind this message is that we have a window of about three weeks to get the ESB management to come to their senses," he said.

"We also hope that the state will not stand idly by and instead will use their own mechanisms to try to bring about a resolution.

"Nobody wants to go out on strike. Nobody wants to put the economy in jeopardy. Nobody wants to see people without power.

"They can't let this happen - they have to come to their senses."

By law each union must issue their own strike notice next Friday after members voted 87% in favour of industrial action in the row over a blackhole in the pension fund.

The dispute between workers and management centres on claims that the retirement pot is 1.6 billion euro in deficit.

A letter has been sent to the chief executive of ESB Electric Ireland, Pat O'Doherty, with detail of the strike notice and plans for a meeting next Thursday.

The ESB said management were considering the approach from the unions.

Other meetings between Government and the unions are planned for earlier in the week.

The pensions row centres on claims by the unions over the level of a deficit and also over the company switching retirement plans from defined benefit to contribution, meaning workers are not guaranteed a certain level of payment.

Unite official Richie Browne said management have the power to resolve the dispute very quickly.

"The cause of this dispute is very simple, and very simply resolved", Mr Browne said.

"The ESB unilaterally introduced changes to its accounting procedures which show the workers' defined benefit pension scheme as a defined contribution arrangement, thus camouflaging the apparent deficit and allowing the company to divest itself of responsibility for current and future deficits."

Unions claim this goes against an agreement from 2010.

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