Bord na Móna letter has ‘heightened’ concerns for workers, union says

Chief executive says lay-offs at Mountdillon will cease until it has ‘greater clarity’

Workers attend an emergency meeting at the Mountdillon Bord na Móna plant. File photograph: Shelley Corcoran

Workers attend an emergency meeting at the Mountdillon Bord na Móna plant. File photograph: Shelley Corcoran

 

A letter from the chief executive of Bord na Móna has provoked an angry response from unions which accused the company of “an insult” to its workforce and said it has “only heightened” their concerns .

In a letter on Monday, Bord na Móna chief executive Tom Donnellan told employees it will cease lay-offs at its Mountdillon facility until it has “greater clarity” on the impact on the company of ESB’s recent planning and environmental difficulties.

ESB was refused planning permission for its West Offaly Power plant last week, while it has been forced to temporarily cease operatoins at Lough Ree Power plant due to discharges of hot water into the Shannon. Both power stations are key customers of Bord na Móna, which had planned to lay off nearly 150 workers at its Mountdillon Plant in Co Longford.

Mr Donnellan said in the letter that “while we work through this period of intense uncertainty we will pause on making any further decisions in relation to operations in Mountdillon and Blackwater and will suspend lay-offs of permanent staff at Mountdillon until we have greater clarity.”

Mr Donnellan said he was committed to communicating with employees “in an open and transparent manner”. “However, I have to be clear and honest with you that these are complex issues involving multiple stakeholders that will take time to resolve and I would therefore ask for your patience as we work to achieve positive outcomes”.

He said that while he appreciated the desire for clarity on behalf of employees, “unfortunately, we do not know what the ESB will do in response to the decision by ABP”. He wrote that the ESB is Bord na Móna’s largest customer arising from the demand of the two power stations affected by recent events.

“The ongoing operation of both power stations is an important element of our strategy. Supplying them with peat and biomass was a key factor in the recent restructuring of of our energy business unit,” he wrote.

Loses

However, the communique to workers provoked an angry response from the Bord na Móna Group of Unions (GOU). In a letter to the company, the unions said it “is becoming very noticeable and totally unacceptable that no meeting has been scheduled with the representatives of the workers”.

The GOU said the chief executive’s letter had “only heightened” workers concerns and, along with the company’s failure to meet with unions, “is an insult to the workers in Bord na Móna”. It accused the company of trying to “side-line” workers and threatening permanent workers with cumpulsory redundancies.

An Bord Pleanála refused an application to redevelop west Offaly power station last week, which had sought an extension to a December 2020 deadline to stop burning peat as it transitioned to relying on biomass fuel.

Also last week, Bord na Móna announced that it lost almost €50 million in the 12 months to the end of March. The semi-state company spent €91.4 million on volunatry redundancies in the period, as it seeks to move into recycling and renewable electricity and away from peat.

A spokesperson for Minister for Energy Richard Bruton, who will visit the midlands and meet Bord na Móna workers on Wednesday. “The Department will liaise with both companies to further consider the impact of this decision and future steps. Ireland’s recent acceptance into the EU Coal Regions in Transition Platform, will assist with technical expertise and will provide for the exchange of knowledge and ideas as we develop a pathway forward.”

“The Government is determined to ensure that we put in place a strategy which facilitates a fair transitoin for workers and for the region.”