Rabbitte asks LRC to mediate in ESB pension row

Minister for Energy describes potential strike as ‘out of all proportion to issues in dispute’

Minister for Communications and Energy Pat Rabbitte has asked the Labour Relations Commission to intervene in an ongoing dispute between management and unions at the ESB that could lead to strike action.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

Minister for Communications and Energy Pat Rabbitte has asked the Labour Relations Commission to intervene in an ongoing dispute between management and unions at the ESB that could lead to strike action. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

Thu, Dec 5, 2013, 19:19

Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte has asked the Labour Relations Commission to intervene in an ongoing dispute between management and unions at the ESB which could lead to strike action.

Mr Rabbitte said he had decided to involve the LRC in the row after several days of discussions between the parties had failed to resolve issues relating to the company’s pension scheme.

Strike notice was served on senior management in the ESB last week and industrial action is due to commence at 8am on December 16th unless a breakthrough can be reached.

Fears have been expressed that homes and businesses could be left without power in the run up to and over Christmas and enterprise bodies have warned that an interruption to power supply could result in job losses.

The disagreement centres on claims by union members that the company’s changes to its pension plan means workers are carrying a risk of some €1.7 billion. Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton last week said the ESB’s pension fund was one of the best funded in the State.

Mr Rabbitte said it was “unthinkable that our economic recovery should be jeopardised, domestic consumers inconvenienced and our country’s reputation undermined by a power disruption that appears to be out of all proportion to the issues in dispute.”

“I have therefore this evening requested the Labour Relations Commission to convene the parties at the earliest possible time,” he said. “I am now asking the parties to use the industrial relations machinery of the state to resolve the dispute and clear up any uncertainty as early as possible.”

The Department of Energy has said contingency plans are in place in the event of a strike by ESB workers and Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn reiterated this while speaking in the Dail today.

Mr Quinn said there was “ongoing engagement between Eirgrid, ESB and the energy regulator to ensure that, if there is industrial action, appropriate and co-ordinated mitigation measures are taken to safeguard security of supply”.

But Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary said “the contingency plan cannot guarantee to citizens that there will not be a power outage 10 days out from Christmas”.

Speaking about the pension scheme, Mr Quinn said it was his understanding that the procedures adopted in the agreement between the ESB and unions in 2010 “have had a positive effect and the scheme actuary has reported that the scheme is now in balance on an ongoing actuarial basis”.

Mr Calleary agreed and said the pension board had stated that it was “on track to be in surplus by 2018. Minister Rabbitte has said there is no risk to the pension scheme and employees retiring between now and 2018 will receive their full entitlements.”

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