Government must play a more constructive role in ESB dispute

As ESB unions prepare to service strike notice Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald TD has called on the government to play a more constructive role in the dispute, adding that media commentary this week by Labour Ministers has been nothing short of reckless.

Deputy McDonald said:

“At the centre of the ESB dispute lays a very simple truth. In 2011 ESB Management unilaterally redefined the workers Defined Benefit pension scheme to a Defined Contribution scheme and by doing so transferred all of the liability from the company to the workers over night.

“The vast majority of these workers are not entitled to a state pension and could if the scheme was wound up they could end up on a weekly pension as low as €13 per week.

“These are the facts behind the dispute and it is the reality facing workers on retirement.

“Management emails from 2011 in the public domain validate the position that management redefined the worker’s pension scheme in its annual accounts from 2011 for the purpose of bolstering the financial position of the company. The leaked emails confirm management took this action without consulting or seeking agreement with the workers or the unions that represent them.

“To date government has played a deeply unhelpful role in this dispute. After nearly five months of refusing to deal with the issue behind the scenes, in the media or in the Dáil, an array of Government Ministers took to the airwaves this week with misleading commentary.

“Labour Ministers Pat Rabbitte and Joan Burton’s media contributions over the last couple of days regarding the ESB pension’s crisis and resulting threat of industrial action have been nothing short of reckless.

“The government is the majority shareholder in the company and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources signs off on the ESB annual accounts each year. Minister Rabbitte refuses to confirm or deny if he signed off on the redefinition of the workers’ pension scheme. Instead he’s taken his foot off the pedal and as a result he may be the first Energy Minister in over 20 years to preside over a power strike, a strike that can be avoided.

“If Government Ministers are serious about avoiding industrial action then it is incumbent on all of them to take a more constructive role regarding the ongoing discussions between management and unions in advance of strike notice expiring on December 16th.”