Fresh move in Ferbane power station dispute may avert its closure

 

A breakthrough in the dispute at the Ferbane power station in Co Offaly yesterday has led to hopes of a final settlement to avert closure and save jobs. The MSF union and the ESB yesterday accepted an invitation by the ESB group of unions to return to a Joint Industrial Council to resolve differences over new work practices.

The council will deal with the case next week.

The move has led to a last-minute change of plan by the ESB. Management was to go before its board tomorrow at a scheduled meeting to recommend the cancellation of a £16.6 million refurbishment programme after the failure to implement an agreement with workers at the plant.

It is understood the ESB will not now be raising the issue at the meeting. The failure to implement the agreement jeopardised the refurbishment plan, which would ensure the future of the plant for 15 years.

The Joint Industrial Council is an internal arbitration mechanism and the group of unions has prepared a framework of the main issues and proposals to be put before it. Both sides have agreed that any recommendations the council makes will be binding.

Closure of the plant was threatened after a small number of employees were said to have declined to implement an agreement entered into 18 months ago. The three employees, members of MSF, are instrumentation technicians.

A settlement will save 114 jobs at the peat-burning power plant, with 200 more jobs in Bord na Mona which depend on its future.

The settlement procedures are understood to provide for binding arbitration in the dispute about the amalgamation of the three technicians and six electricians at Ferbane into a new Electrical and Instrumentation (E&I) grade. The electricians, members of the TEEU, had already agreed the changes.

The secretary of the ESB group of unions, Mr Paddy O'Reilly, said MSF and the ESB had accepted proposals. The chairman of the industrial council, Mr Kieran McGowan, would hear the case next week. An ESB spokesman said it had accepted the proposal of the ESB group of unions to go before the council.

But at a press conference in Tullamore, Co Offaly, local MSF officials claimed the ESB management wanted any excuse to pull out of investment in Ferbane and the other peat-fired station at Rhode, Co Offaly.

"The ESB are now seeking a further 120 redundancies from the workers in the midlands station and that's equivalent to the total employment in Ferbane," said MSF regional officer Mr Joe Bowers. "The manner in which the ESB has threatened this investment and threatened the entire community of Ferbane is a totally unacceptable method of dealing with an industrial relations problem."

Mr Don Geraghty, the MSF branch secretary, and one of the workers at the centre of the Ferbane row, said: "We are very concerned and highly suspicious that an attempt will be made to scuttle this document and collapse this process and we are not convinced that the ESB is committed to Ferbane and the midlands station."