With the stroke of a pen, the highly profitable ESB tried to change the pensions of its workforce from defined benefits (DB) to defined contributions (DC) and also claim that they had no more responsibility toward the financing of our pensions.
DB pensions are linked to wages with employers responsible for any shortfall in the pension fund. With DC pensions, employers are only liable to pay in a certain amount and the benefits to pensioners are totally reliant on what’s in the pension fund. Most ESB workers are totally dependent on their ESB pension having been excluded from receiving state pensions and so were determined to fight against a lucky bag type pension, dependent on the boom and crash of the stock markets!
Over 87% voted in favor of industrial action. As soon as the ballot result was announced, the media, particularly the print media, went to war against ESB workers and against Group of Unions leader Brendan Ogle.
The undisguised vitriol towards the workers & Brendan Ogle contrasted sharply to the genuine gratitude expressed to ESB workers during the Christmas storms. Branded as ogres for threatening strike action they were later seen as heroes for braving the elements and giving up their Christmas in order to restore supply to homes.
Families without supply for days, without heat, sometimes without water cheerfully greeted crews and showed real concern for our safety. There wasn’t much concern from the journalists in the Irish Independent who howled for the passing of laws forbidding workers in essential services to strike, or from the writer in the Cork Evening Echo who on 4 January decided that rather than heroes ESB workers were indeed “Bastards”.
There is more than a sea of words between such decent families and the right wing journalist working on behalf of the millionaire and billionaire owned press.
For a number of years now the bosses and their media have become accustomed to a pliant trade union leadership with many hard won conditions lost as workers looked in vain for a lead against the onslaught of austerity. Given such a lead, ESB workers readied themselves for the strike and elicited at least a partial if not a full climb-down from management and the government.
We have to wait to see if the ESB are actually going to honour the agreement because no sooner had the settlement been reached but management were putting their own spin on the deal. Was this was to save face or will it be a case of round two will become clearer in March. Either way it’s quite clear that the only way to deal with the worsening of pay and conditions is to fight against them, collectively. Ní neart go cur le chéile – There is no strength without unity!