Business threats to leave ESB won't stop power cuts – union
STRIKE: Step back from brink, warns Minister
ESB unions say that objections by retailers to their proposed strike "won't make a blind bit of difference".
A nationwide black-out before Christmas seemed closer today despite calls from Transport Minister Leo Varadkar for talks.
The minister said that plans by ESB workers to down tools was "an unreasonable threat".
"No one's job is being threatened, no one is being asked to take a conditional pay cut and no one's pension is under threat.
"So, really, I'd like to see both sides step back from the brink and engage with each other in the week ahead," he said.
However, the head of the ESB group of unions Brendan Ogle remained defiant, saying that workers are being "forced into industrial action".
He dismissed comments from Retail Excellence Ireland (REI) who said that its members would withdraw support from ESB/Electric Ireland and move to other suppliers if strike action goes ahead next month.
"The electricity system requires people to work it and if those people are forced into industrial action, the electricity system isn't going to work, or it isn't going to work as efficiently as it worked," Mr Ogle said.
"It makes no difference who your energy supplier is. You could be an ESB customer somewhere and not be affected or you could be a competitor's customer somewhere and be affected. It is as random as that."
Notice of industrial action is likely to be served on ESB this Friday in the dispute over the €1.6bn deficit in the company pension scheme.
Retail Excellence Ireland (REI) threatened a massive cancellation of ESB accounts from the business sector if the power cuts went ahead.
REI involves 1,100 leading retail companies that operate more than 11,000 stores in the Irish market.
REI chief executive David Fitzsimons said: "The ESB and Electric Ireland currently enjoys some 88,000 SME and 14,000 medium-sized business accounts.
"Should strike action proceed, the retail industry will withdraw all support for the State company in the new year.
"We will intervene to assist retail industry businesses to switch to more market-focused energy providers.
"The ESB and Electric Ireland, the union and the staff, have no understanding of the real world and the harsh economy we live in today.
"A company that demonstrates such a culture of ignorance and opulence is one that should not be supported."
Mr Fitzsimons has estimated that about 44,000 company accounts would leave the ESB in the New Year if the strike hit businesses in the busy run-up to Christmas.
The threat of strike action centres on a €1.6bn deficit in the ESB workers' pension fund.
Unions have set a date of December 16 to begin shutting off power unless the issue is resolved.
Eamon Timmins, the spokesman for Age Action Ireland, which represents elderly people, warned that any power outages would have a devastating effect on the "most vulnerable people" in society.