No government plan to transition to decarbonised economy - unions

‘Glaring absence of strategy that would help ensure that workers are not abandoned’

The Bord na Móna case would be watched closely by workers and communities elsewhere – such as Moneypoint where the ESB has a large power station – and serve as a litmus test for how Ireland manages the transition and ensures decent jobs.

The Bord na Móna case would be watched closely by workers and communities elsewhere – such as Moneypoint where the ESB has a large power station – and serve as a litmus test for how Ireland manages the transition and ensures decent jobs.

 

The Government and Bord na Móna have been criticised for failing to genuinely pursue a “just transition” to a decarbonised economy, especially when a new Ictu report shows it would generate tens of thousands of jobs by embracing renewable energy.

A conference hosted by Irish Congress of Trade Unions ( Ictu) in Tullamore, Co Offaly, heard Bord na Móna was in effect imposing compulsory redundancies and providing inferior jobs for those staying with the semi-State company. This follows its decision to get out of peat production, which is concentrated in the Midlands.

“The global battle against climate change has come to Ireland and its first port of call is the Midlands,” said Ictu general secretary Patricia King.

Bord na Móna workers “may be among the first, but they will not be the last group of workers required to make sacrifices for the greater good and for future generations, along with the communities of the Midlands”, she added. “Therefore it would seem only fair and reasonable that every conceivable effort is made to ensure they don’t suffer hardship as a result.”

The Bord na Móna case would be watched closely by workers and communities elsewhere – such as Moneypoint where the ESB has a large power station – and serve as a litmus test for how Ireland manages the transition and ensures decent jobs, she said.

If the Government did not deliver a just transition, the fallout would fuel opposition and make decarbonisation far more difficult to achieve, she said – This is one of the conclusions of an Ictu report on the case for a just transition for Bord na Móna workers published this week.

The failure to complete a report on the employment and economic implications of the transition “would appear to betray a worrying lack of urgency on the part of the Government”, it says.

No plan

The Bord na Móna case “requires urgent, concerted and coherent action”, it adds. “There is an absence of a plan for a just transition and a glaring absence of such an overall national strategy that would help ensure that workers and local communities across the country are not simply abandoned to their fate.”

It calls for:

- Bord na Móna to increase involvement in renewable power generation to create new and replacement employment opportunities;

- Solar power development to create 11,000 jobs nationally, many of which could be located in the Midlands;

- The company to lead a retrofitting of buildings programme across the Midlands to boost energy efficiency. A national retrofit programme could create up to 18,800 new jobs with many located in the Midlands;

- Investment in public transport and broadband to enhance employment opportunities in the Midlands.

Willie Noone of Bord na Móna Group of Unions said there was no just transition in place for workers. The reality was “excruciating negotiations to get ordinary redundancy severance and de facto compulsory redundancies”, while “the most vulnerable workers are being treated worst”.

A total of 200 workers had gone this year, with 240 more to lose their jobs by the end of 2019. If there was a continuing lack of engagement, “a fighting army” would assert itself, not to get more money but to achieved fairness.

Bord na Móna head of regulatory affairs John MacNamara reiterated the company’s commitment to a just transition, and stressed an approved voluntary parting scheme was in place.

It was going to scale up its renewable energy activities, including the use of indigenous biomass, and transform its peat regions, he said. It was trialling the development of an aquaculture enterprise at its Mount Lucas facility and piloting development of herbs to serve the pharma and food additives sectors.

Fianna Fáil spokesman for climate action Timmy Dooley said the social consequences for the Midlands should be tackled first. This required honesty from Government as a just transition would not be achieved with quick fixes and without proper assessments.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he had to deliver some hard truths. Bord na Móna’s timelines for continued use of biomass was not sustainable, and it would have to end the export of peat for use in English country gardens.

To cushion the blow, the biggest role Ireland could play in reducing emissions was to restore its boglands “and keep our carbon in the ground”.

Case study

Philip Casey, who has 39 years service with Bord na Móna, says morale in the semi-State is extremely low because there is so much uncertainty for those staying with the company, and unease about the circumstances in which others are leaving.

For those staying, there was a feeling their jobs “are in the bucket” because employment is depending on the ESB getting planning permission for West Offaly and Lough Ree power plants, and on them being allowed to use biomass as a fuel source.

He said the country was in election mode and politicians needed to intervene to ensure there was a proper bridge in transitioning to a decarbonised economy that is fair.

This meant ensuring support for older workers like himself – he is 58-years-old and works in Bord na Móna’s Blackwater Works in Shannonbridge – in getting to pension age. Meanwhile younger workers needed to be able to secure proper redundancy terms. In many cases, those in the latter category were getting less than two years’ wages.

“Myself and my colleagues don’t know if we have a future past 2020. Our concern is that the company we grew up with is passing before our very eyes,” he says.

He fully accepts the need to change to a low-carbon economy but adds: “It’s important that we are part of it. So far we are excluded.”