Unions fear 'lockout' as laid off Bord na Mona staff plan to go to work

"You will have a semi-state company locking people out of work who are trying to work."

Gearoid Keegan

Reporter:

Gearoid Keegan

Unions fear 'lockout' as laid off Bord na Mona staff plan to go to work

Peat being harvested on a Bord na Mona bog

BORD na Mona staff who have been laid off are planning to turn up for work tomorrow (Thursday, April 30) morning anyway as the dispute at the energy company continues.

Up to 230 workers are being temporarily released from employment by Bord na Mona but union representatives are opposing the move.

The first lay-offs are due to take effect tomorrow but Bord na Mona's group of unions (GOU) has said affected employees will go along to work as they normally would.

The GOU said it is expected that workers will continue to receive normal earnings going forward.

In a letter to the company, Willie Noone, GOU secretary said: “In the event that any member should suffer loss of earnings, we will respond in an appropriate measure to the dispute that your actions will have caused.”

The Tullamore Tribune understands the company told the unions on Monday, April 27, that unless they had been notified of a reassignment role, permanent employees impacted by the lay-offs should not attend work.

They were told they “will only be paid 100% of their current basic wage on a flat 39 hour week”.

Employees will receive a letter explaining their payment under the wage subsidy scheme in advance of their first payment on May 8 in line with their normal weekly payroll.

Pay levels for permanent employees were seen as critical by union representatives because top-ups have seen some workers traditionally earning far more than their basic wage.

The payments are being made through the wage subsidy scheme which was introduced by the Government in an effort to help companies retain employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The GOU continues to insist that use of the scheme is not appropriate for Bord na Mona, saying the trading difficulties predate the coronavirus.

It is understood the company told union representatives on Monday that it is liaising with Revenue on the scheme and will ensure it complies with Revenue guidelines.

The workers being laid off support supply operations to three power stations, West Offaly Power in Shannonbridge and Lough Ree Power in Lanesborough which are owned by the ESB, and Bord na Mona's own generating station, Edenderry Power.

Both West Offaly Power and Lough Ree Power are offline at present and demand for electricity from Edenderry Power, which burns a mixture of peat and biomass, has declined.

The GOU has argued that peat harvesting has ceased because planning permission has not been granted and Lough Ree Power is switched off because of thermal plume in the Shannon, which also occurred last year.

The company has told union representatives that some staff will be reassigned within the peat works affected.

These are Blackwater, Derrygreenagh and Mountdillon. Reassignment will be on the basis of skillset and seniority.

“These roles will provide some employees with the opportunity to maintain their full earnings potential,” the company told the GOU.

GOU spokesman Willie Noone said the unions are now in dispute with the company, hence his request to members to turn up for work tomorrow.

“You will have a semi-state company locking people out of work who are trying to work,” he said.

“We're telling our members to come into work on Thursday and see what [the company] are going to do... because we know that possibly in another 10 days' time there's going to be another 200 people laid off.”