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'Unnecessary and unreasonable': Varadkar and Coveney hit out at ESB strike threat

“Nobody’s job is being threatened here, nobody is being asked to take an additional pay cut and nobody’s pension is under threat,” the Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said this morning.

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TWO CABINET MINISTERS have criticised possible strike action by workers at ESB next month, describing it as “a very unnecessary dispute” and a “retrograde step”.

Speaking to the media outside Government Buildings this morning, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said that strike action is “the last thing the Irish economy needs right now”.

“This would be a real retrograde step and it shouldn’t happen,” Coveney said, calling for talks between management and unions to avert strike and possible power cuts as a result. (Watch more in the video above)

In similar comments on RTÉ this morning, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said that there is no threat of any job losses, pay or pension cuts at the electricity company which makes the possibility of strike action next month “totally unnecessary”.

Workers at the State company have threatened strike on 16 December, pending a meeting with company executives later this week. The dispute centres around an agreement in 2010 to address the €1.6 billion deficit in the company’s pension scheme, which unions say the company has breached.

“There are a lot of pension funds in Ireland that are in trouble, the ESB pension fund is not one of them,” Varadkar told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. “According to the pensions board it’s full funded until 2018 and will actually be in surplus after that.”

‘May well look terrible’

He said that funding plan had been agreed to bring ESB’s pension fund “back to financial health” and said that the dispute centres over the accounting treatment of the scheme and whether it is defined benefit or defined contribution.

“Nobody’s job is being threatened here, nobody is being asked to take an additional pay cut and nobody’s pension is under threat,” he said.

“So you know it seems to me that this rush into industrial action really is unnecessary and unwarranted.”

Varadkar said he did not anticipate the government introducing emergency legislation to avert strike action as Retail Excellence Ireland has called for this morning.

He said that he is not concerned about how strike action the day after Ireland formally exits the bailout will look, but the impact it will have.

“It may well look terrible but it’s not how it look that really bothers me,” he said. “It’s the impact on businesses, on schools, on primary healthcare centres, for example, and just on households and families.

“So, like I say, this to me seems like a unnecessary dispute and an unreasonable threat.”

Video: Nicky Ryan at Government Buildings

Read: Retail firms to switch energy providers if ESB strike goes ahead

Read: Charity warns ESB strike would ‘hurt most vulnerable’

Read: ESB unions issue strike threat ahead of meeting next week

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