ESB’s growing financial strength could be the cause of its next problem

Many private sector workers have looked with envy at the pay and conditions at ESB

Judging by its financial performance in 2013, the group will not be able to plead poverty if faced with a new pay claim – this puts  Pat Rabbitte in a bind

Judging by its financial performance in 2013, the group will not be able to plead poverty if faced with a new pay claim – this puts Pat Rabbitte in a bind

Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 01:00

As its latest accounts show, ESB has emerged from the economic crisis in rude financial health, performing strongly and making eye-catching profits.

This could soon be the company’s problem.

Many private sector workers have looked with envy at the pay and conditions at ESB. The group’s 7,500 staff shared €470 million last year in salaries and overtime, an average of €63,000 each.

ESB negotiated a “pay pause” with its workers, but this is due to run out at the end of this month. Workers are likely to seek a rise.

Plead poverty
Judging by its financial performance in 2013, the group will not be able to plead poverty if faced with a new pay claim. This puts management and Pat Rabbitte, the Minister responsible for the company, in a bind.

Does the company run the risk of enraging public opinion by boosting the pay of its workers?

Or does it risk a fresh confrontation with its staff by holding the line on pay despite its obvious capacity to absorb a modest pay increase?

The accounts also lay bare the extent of the fudge that was the LRC agreement in December to avert a threatened strike over its pension scheme.

Nothing of the sort
The accounts confirm that the “settlement” was in reality nothing of the sort. It was merely an agreement by both sides to step back from the edge.

As per the letter of that deal, the accounts now clearly state that the scheme is a defined benefit (DB) arrangement, which would seem to suggest that workers should not be on the hook if a deficit were to arise.

Under the normal “balance of costs” approach to DB schemes the employer is responsible for plugging any deficit. But the accounts state that the “balance of costs” principles do not apply under the special rules of the ESB scheme.

The LRC “settlement” deliberately made no mention of “balance of costs”.

An issue for another day, perhaps.

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