ESB union leader says Christmas period will be spared any blackout action
Ogle says ‘no appetite’ to ‘turn off the lights’ but decision will be taken by committee
Brendan Ogle, secretary of the ESB Group of Unions: “Why there are drawings of me in the papers pulling out the Christmas lights, I don’t know.” Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Potential strike action at the ESB will not lead to a Christmas blackout although the exact timing of any power cuts has yet to be outlined, the secretary of the group of unions has said.
Tomorrow several government departments will meet the company, its unions and trustees of the pension fund which stands at the centre of a bitter dispute that looks set to see notice of industrial action served this Friday.
That will carry a mandate for some kind of action from December 16th.
Brendan Ogle said it was highly unlikely that either Christmas Day or Christmas Eve would be targeted but he said that ultimately those decisions had to be taken by committee.
“I have said several times that there will not be power outages over Christmas so why there are drawings of me in the papers pulling out the Christmas lights, I don’t know.”
He insisted there remained “no appetite” among worker to “turn off the lights” but that efforts to seek a meeting with the ESB executive on Thursday had met silence.
ESB employees are seeking resolution in the ongoing row over a €1.7 billion deficit in their pension fund.
The unions’ claim about the scheme’s solvency is based on the minimum funding standard, which calculates a defined benefit pension fund’s assets and liabilities if it were wound up.
They argue the ESB unilaterally changed the scheme from defined benefit to defined contribution in 2011, after unions and management agreed terms to plug a €2 billion deficit that emerged in 2010. This lets the company off the hook for future liabilities.
“What it means is very simple. Where the richest employer in the State sector carried €1.7 billion of risks, changed to put that risk unilaterally on the shoulders of the 4,000 members of the scheme,” Mr Ogle said.
The ESB says the minimum funding standard should not apply as the pension scheme is based on a specific piece of legislation passed in the 1940s. It also says it has already won approval from the regulator, the Pensions Board, for a plan that will plug the gap by 2018.
Mark Fielding, chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (Isme), said such action would have a catastrophic effect on businesses and the economy.