Most ESB unions due to back main aspects of deals


MOST of the ESB unions are expected to endorse the main aspects of the £270 million restructuring deal when they meet this morning. But the unanimous recommendation sought by the company and most union leaders to the Cost and Competitiveness Review is unlikely to be achieved.

The ESB unions met separately last week to discuss the CCR and embraced it with varying degrees of enthusiasm, except for SIPTU. It is understood that SIPTU is maintaining its opposition to the deal, which promises improvements in pay, pensions and fringe benefits to most of the ESB's 9,400 employees and a generous voluntary package to the 2,000 who will lose their jobs.

Because of SIPTU opposition, it has been impossible for the group of leading union negotiators, the five man steering committee to endorse the CCR ahead of today's crucial meeting.

At an internal meeting last week, SIPTU representatives are understood to have reiterated objections to the deal, which would drastically weaken SIPTU's influence in the company.

The group is likely to endorse rather than recommend, the main features of the CCR today. There will also be a significant "let out" clause. The unions will probably decide to leave the most controversial aspect of the CCR the "category" awards, outside the overall endorsement.

The category awards are the local agreements that have been negotiated as part of the overall package.

Staff are being awarded a 6 per cent pay rise in return for giving extra flexibility and productivity within the category where they work. The 2,000 redundancies planned within the ESB could not take place without these concessions.

There is likely to be little resistance by workers to the "pan" awards being offered across the company. These cover issues like a reduction in superannuation contributions from the workforce, the financial aspects of the voluntary severance deal (worth an average of £105,000 per employee leaving), shares in the company and extra funding for the medical provident scheme.

The workforce will probably vote for the "tripartite" elements of the deal, which cover pricing and Government regulation of the energy market. Without these, the ESB's future in a competitive environment would be compromised and everybody's job would be at risk.

The ESB unions must take their final decision today on whether to endorse the CCR. With or without SIPTU, balloting is likely to begin shortly.