Bord na Móna proposal to layoff up to 230 workers ‘is deplorable’ – Fitzmaurice

A proposal from Bord na Móna to layoff up to 230 workers in light of the Covid-19 outbreak has been described as “deplorable” by independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice.

It is understood that the temporary layoff proposal specifically affects peat division workers – both seasonal and permanent – who are involved in the process of supplying peat to West Offaly Power Station in Shannonbridge, Lough Ree Power Station in Lanesborough, Co. Longford, and Edenderry Power Station also in Co. Offaly.

A board meeting on the proposed temporary job losses is being held at Bord na Móna headquarters this morning, Tuesday, April 21. The company has stated that full basic pay for the affected workers will be protected (which excludes bonuses and overtime).

The proposed move comes a week after ESB confirmed that production at the Lough Ree Power Station is temporarily halted due to an environmental compliance issue; while other sudden stoppages occurred at West Offaly Power Station due to an apparent lower demand for electricity in recent weeks.

Midlands lough ree

Commenting on the matter, Fitzmaurice said: “Given developments in recent weeks regarding the plants in Shannonbridge and Lanesborough, it is deplorable that Bord na Móna is now considering laying off up to 230 workers – during a national crisis.

“In recent years, words like ‘Just Transition’ and ‘fair play to workers’ have consistently been pushed out into the public domain by the country.

“However, it is now apparent that these were just buzzwords used by the company in order to kick the can down the road.

If you look back, we were promised a report on the Just Transition by the end of the first quarter of this year – but nothing has been forthcoming.

“Seasonal and permanent workers involved in the production and supply of peat are basically being cast on the rubbish heap if Bord na Móna pushes ahead with this proposal,” he said.

It is understood that the proposed layoffs would take effect from the end of this month, with letters currently being prepared in order to be issued by post.

The Roscommon-Galway representative has called on senior management within the semi-state company to clarify the situation. He is also questioning whether senior staff within the company are willing to “take a wage decrease” in order to “share the burden” with the company’s peat miners.

The TD also indicated that Bord na Móna is awaiting confirmation on whether it is eligible for the Government’s Wage Subsidy Scheme in order to keep on the other permanent workers involved in the process of supplying peat to the various power plants at 80% of their basis pay during a 39-hour week.

“This is despite the Government encouraging employers to maintain wage levels at 100%,” he said.

Summer harvest quagmire

This latest development comes amidst a backdrop where Bord na Móna continues to await a decision from An Bord Pleanála which will determine whether Bord na Móna can harvest peat on its bogs this summer. This decision is due to be made on May 12.

“As well as these issues, workers who are actively trying to leave the company are being forced to wait longer – as no decision will be made on applications to the Voluntary Redundancy Scheme until after An Bord Pleanála makes its announcement.

“I am calling on Minister Richard Bruton to intervene in this situation. At the very least, the laying off of any employees should not be considered until the middle of May when An Bord Pleanála’s decision will paint a clearer picture.

“By then, there should also be clarity on whether Bord na Móna can qualify for the Wage Subsidy Scheme and progress can be made on the voluntary redundancy applications.

It is nonsensical laying off workers who wish to carry on, whether others are actively seeking to leave.

“We need to keep as many people in employment during these uncertain times as possible. And even though Minister Bruton may like to see the end of Bord na Móna, he has to stand by the ordinary workers and ensure that they are treated fairly.

Image-source-Bord-na-Mona-AgriLand Just Transition peat turf

“Initially, it was pledged that work would be available until 2028 or 2029. This has continued to fall and fall, as new plans or strategies were published. The least the minister and Bord na Móna could do is honour the year that these workers were promised that they would be out on the bog.

“Many families depend on these jobs to put food on the table. It would be shameful if Bord na Móna decided to pull the rug out from under them during this pandemic,” Fitzmaurice said.

Bord na Móna response

In response to queries regarding the proposed temporary layoff of 230 peat workers, a spokesperson for Bord na Móna said the company has taken “a range of steps” to protect the jobs of people in Bord na Móna since the current health crisis began.

“Bord na Móna is not immune from the effects of the crisis which has caused an unprecedented drop in global energy prices.

“The company is reviewing the situation and is in a process of ongoing engagement with all stakeholders as it deals with a number of business impacts caused by the crisis.”

These issues include:
  • Steep declines in demand for energy generally and in electricity prices;
  • Declines in other revenues including commercial waste and recycling.

“Bord na Móna is determined to protect the basic pay of all employees affected by the crisis,” the statement concluded.