BORD na Mona denied this week that the redundancy programme under way in the company is compulsory.
John McNamara, Bord na Mona’s head of regulatory affairs, was responding to a claim from SIPTU energy sector organiser Willie Noone.
Speaking at the ‘Building a Just Transition’ conference in Tullamore yesterday (Tuesday, April 30), Mr Noone accused Bord na Mona of panicking workers into accepting redundancy terms.
He said about 200 jobs had already been lost following “excruciating negotiations” where workers were only trying to get “ordinary redundancy severance terms”.
“In reality it’s de facto compulsory redundancies,” said Mr Noone.
Up to 430 redundancies were announced by Bord na Mona last September as it exits the peat business as part of its commitment to fighting climate change.
Mr Noone said the transition from peat in Bord na Mona was neither fair nor just and he claimed the 1977 Protection of Employment Act was being ignored because proper consultations had not taken place.
He also said a Workplace Relations Commission decision on consultation following a joint industrial relations council was being ignored.
“There was no agreement reached on selection criteria. Hence workers are panicked into applying due to the precarious nature of their employment.”
He said Bord na Mona was unique because of its large number of “seasonal” workers, employees, he said, who had fewer rights than casual staff.
Employees were taking voluntary redundancy because they felt they had no choice and he claimed “middle and senior management are gaining” at the expense of those on low pay and the most vulnerable.
He also accused the company of breaching its own pension rules by withdrawing the right to access the pension from those aged between 50 and 60.
Furthermore, Bord na Mona’s retention of a retirement age of 65 meant that former employees had a “gap” between retirement and accessing the State pension at ages of 66, 67 and 68.
He added: “The longserving employees are leaving with only statutory redundancy, that’s all, not one red cent more.”
Those whose jobs “are gone” in the redundancy programme can apply to Bord na Mona again for new posts, but may have to settle for the minimum wage.
Mr Noone also cast doubt on the company’s plans for new jobs in areas such as wind and solar and fish farming and herb growing.
While any progress on new jobs was welcome, he cautioned: “But they’re on very unsteady foundations. They’re built on what may happen, what they hope will happen.”
He also predicted a 50 per cent decline in the demand for peat from the ESB next year and said Bord na Mona’s plan to replace peat with biomass will only be viable if it is given a State subsidy.
Mr Noone said the group of unions was not seeking more money and it would “not take much” to sort out the small numbers of people aged 58 or 59 who could not access their Bord na Mona pensions.
While industrial action was not an option now because of the company’s contention that the redundancy programme was voluntary, he indicated that situation could change.
“When the easy picking fruit is gone, the people who are going voluntarily are gone, you’re left with a fighting army, the people who are not allowed go or the people who want to stay,” he said.
In a short reply to Mr Noone, Mr McNamara said talks were ongoing and he did not think it would be appropriate to comment in a public forum.
“The scheme that has been produced is a group scheme, it is a voluntary scheme,” he said. “It’s been oversubscribed and there’s still collective bargaining arrangements that are taking place.”
The conference was organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and its vice president, Kevin Callinan, who chaired the event, commented that there was a “major disparity” between the union organiser and the Bord na Mona speaker.
Earlier, Mr McNamara outlined Bord na Mona’s plans for an expansion of its wind generation capacity, its proposals for solar energy and its programme for supplying biomass to the ESB peat-fired power stations.
He recalled the company’s entry to the waste management business in the early 2000s. Bord na Mona owns AES which has a major centre in Tullamore.
He said there had been no PSO (public service obligation) support for Bord na Mona’s Edenderry peat power station since 2016, where 40 per cent of the fuel load is now biomass.
The two ESB plants are coming out of their support this year and next year so the public will not, on their bill, will not be paying to keep peat in the power stations,” he said.
He said 66 events had been hosted by Bord na Mona to assist employees who are considering taking redundancy.
Opening the conference, Patricia King, ICTU general secretary, described climate change as one of the greatest economic and social challenges facing the country and Bord na Mona is “at the centre” of the national conversation.
“The very concept of a just transition as it now applies to the environmental and climate change process which confronts us, originated from with the global labour movement many years before it entered the political mainstream,” said Ms King.
According to its 2018 annual report, Bord na Mona employs about 2,000 people, of which some 1,200 were engaged in peat production.
The company has about 1,000 employees in Offaly.