Up to 430 jobs could be lost at Bord na Móna as the company shifts focus to renewable energy and sustainable business.
Minister for Communications Richard Bruton and Minister for Business Heather Humphreys have released a joint statement in which they say Bord na Móna has confirmed it will seek the redundancies on a voluntary basis.
“Today is a difficult day for many Bord na Móna workers and their communities. However, Bord na Móna is taking the steps it needs to take now, to continue to contribute to providing good and sustainable jobs in the Midlands for many years to come,” they said.
The Ministers said all relevant State supports would be available to the workers impacted by the announcement. “Bord na Móna will provide additional supports to workers who opt for redundancy, including reskilling opportunities. The Government welcomes the extensive consultation which will now take place with workers in the coming weeks,” they said.
“Bord na Móna is also acknowledging that Climate Change is our biggest challenge globally.”
A spokesman for the firm said it was seeking between 380 and 430 voluntary redundancies, with managerial, administrative and peat operations roles affected.
Earlier, employee union Unite called on Mr Bruton to intervene, warning the Government was “sleepwalking into a crisis which will devastate Midlands communities” and was risking industrial action.
The job cuts, which would affect Bord na Mona's operations in Co Kildare and Co Offaly, have been rumoured in recent days and follow a decision by the company to immediately close 17 of its 62 active bogs, with harvesting at the remaining 45 bogs expected to stop by 2025.
Bord na Móna did not give an expected timeframe for the job losses, but they could begin as early as the beginning of 2019. Consultations with employees are set to begin.
The move comes as chief executive Tom Donnellan launched a new plan that would accelerates the development of renewable energy assets and move the company away from the traditional peat business. the plan also includes investment in higher-value recycling and resource recovery business, and the development of new business to support jobs in the Midlands.
Peat volumes hit a high of 6.5 million tonnes in 2013; Bord na Mona is planning to reduce that to 2 million tonnes in 2020. Bord na Móna has set 2028 as the deadline for an end to the use of peat for energy, two years earlier than originally planned.
Bord na Móna chief executive Tom Donnellan says the company is facing the climate change challenge “head on. He told RTÉ’s News at One the decision was necessary because of the need to decarbonise energy sources in response to climate change.
“Obviously we will put forward the best redundancy packages we can secure. There will be opportunities for some to redeploy and avail of training,” he said. “We’re trying to position Bord na Mona for the future. It’s very important that we concentrate on the future. We are doing this because of global climate change requirements.”
The company said it would be adding jobs in the future, but acknowledged there would be “real short term challenges” for those who faced losing their jobs as a result of the strategy.
Regional officer Colm Quinlan said the jobs losses announced on Wednesday were in excess of what was agreed between unions and Bord na Mona in early 2016.
He said Mr Bruton should call an urgent meeting with Bord na Mona, the ESB and other stakeholders to work on the proposal that would see Bord na Mona supply peat to two ESB peat-fired power stations in Offaly and Longford.
“In the event that this agreement is not progressed, and the planning process is not activated as a priority, the level and pace of job losses could significantly exceed those announced today,” he said.
He said if progress was not made, industrial action early next year was a real possibility.
“While Unite and the Bord na Mona Group of Unions will be fully engaged in the consultation process, and will make every effort to work with all stakeholders to preserve the maximum number of jobs, if we do not receive progress reports and assurances in the short term, a major industrial dispute early next year would become inevitable,” he said. “We are determined to ensure that Bord na Mona, its workers and the communities they sustain do not pay the price for decarbonisation.”
The Union has also called for workers in the affected areas to be given access to a “Just Transition” fund.
Bord na Mona has set a target of producing 75 per cent of the energy it generates from renewable resources by 2020, and speeding up the development of such assets to up to 2GW by 2030.
It also plans a sharp increase the supply of greenhouse gas neutral biomass to replace peat in the power stations in the midlands.
The company said it would develop new businesses to support the low carbon economy, an investment that could create up to 500 jobs in the midlands in the future. It will also expand the company’s tyre recycling plant, adding 46 jobs.