Top union leader says it's 'do or die' for Bord na Mona


THE country's top union official has hit out at Bord na Mona management as fears for up to 1,000 jobs in Offaly grow.

ICTU general secretary Patricia King accused Bord na Mona management of “not working that well with us” as the company undergoes radical change.

“They're very bad on the consultations and sitting down and that causes resentment,” Ms King said.

In an interview with the Tribune, Ms King said ICTU has suggested that the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) will have to get involved to prevent a dispute occurring.

“We suggested setting up a forum chaired by the WRC to bring the parties together and find some level of agreement,” she said.

Unions representing workers at the energy company accept that the numbers on the payroll will be substantially reduced in the coming years as Bord na Mona's decarbonisation programme advances.

Voluntary redundancy terms have been tabled but worker representatives are growing increasingly unhappy with how the cutbacks are being managed.

Though it has signalled from a few years back that it was exiting peat production – the traditional powerhouse of Bord na Mona employment – thereby resulting in the loss of hundreds of permanent, temporary and seasonal jobs on the bogs, that process may have to be accelerated if power stations close down earlier than expected.

West Offaly Power in Shannonbridge, an ESB plant which burns Bord na Mona peat, has not obtained planning permission for a co-fuelling project.

In east Offaly, at the Bord na Mona Edenderry Power generating station near Clonbullogue, a wind-down is also anticipated in the coming years even though it has an established co-firing fuel load of peat and biomass.

“There is nobody on our side that is going to accept compulsory redundancies,” said Ms King.

Though there have been some positive signs of engagement, unions have concluded that the current Bord na Mona management is not prepared to engage in “proper structured sit-downs”.

“They are being quite belligerent in my view in how they're managing this. They're not engaging constructively on this at all,” said the ICTU chief.

All sides accept that Bord na Mona is on the cusp of its most significant change ever but in the long history of the company, a culture developed of structured engagement.

There have been substantial rationalisations previously, notably in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but industrial peace has been the hallmark of the company.

Ms King fears that because some longserving executives have left the semi-state, some of the “corporate intelligence” within Bord na Mona has gone with them.

“It is a very unsettling time for people working in the place,” she said.

Her comments came after a top-level meeting with the Department of Climate Action, Minister Richard Bruton, and a delegation of the Bord na Mona unions.

Ms King said she was impressed with how well the Department's officials were briefed and was assured by them that they were working “day and night” on the Bord na Mona issue.

She said she was heartened by what she had heard.

“This is a do or die moment. All these workers are entitled to know what the plan is and where they are going,” she remarked.

The unions see Bord na Mona as the litmus test for the Government's overall climate action strategy and the notion of a “just transition” to a low carbon economy and society.

Ms King said she was not impressed by a “recommendation” in the Government's Climate Action Plan for the establishment of a Just Transition Review Group.

It set out a framework for the involvement of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) in defining the terms of reference and membership of the review group by the last three months of this year.

By the last quarter of next year the Government aims to publish a “periodic review and strategic advice” on the just transition.

Ms King is a member of NESC and she believes a national transition task force should be established to address what needs to be done to ensure a just transition at national level.

Echoing comments she made at a Just Transition conference in Tullamore last April, Ms King said under the Paris Agreement, action on climate change was a binding international obligation – but that agreement also bound nations to ensuring the transition is a just one.

She urges that Athlone Institute of Technology should be designated as a “green centre of excellence” to smooth the path for workers exiting the fossil fuel industry and train people for other work opportunities.

“Workers and the communities should not pay the price,” Ms King declared.

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