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 Header Item Message from Seanad (Continued)
 Header Item Topical Issue Debate
 Header Item Bord na Móna

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 918 No. 3

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  6 o’clock

Topical Issue Debate

Bord na Móna

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen I raise this issue because it is a concern of mine and of many workers within Bord na Móna that jobs are being put at risk in its transport rail and road divisions by the board's plans to outsource those services and impose unilateral pay cuts on existing workers. There was much consternation, deliberation and negotiation, and ultimately it went to the Labour Court. Other aspects of the negotiations took place over a protracted period of time and culminated earlier this year in a Workplace Relations Commission agreement, which spoke about the ability of the relevant section of the board to outsource services. In this case, as a result of Bord na Móna's intention to outsource its road division and impose cuts on its rail division, 130-odd workers are affected. If there is a breach of the WRC agreement it could have a knock-on effect on the 600 workers involved in the entire peat production, known as feedstock. My contention is that the board feels it is within its powers as detailed within the agreement, which states:

Bord na Móna's road haulage operations are currently being reviewed with a view to significant cost reductions and while the company notes the union's opposition to outsourcing in general, the option of outsourcing has been included in this review and if this standard tendering process determines that outsourcing is the most economic option it will be pursued. In that eventuality, existing Bord na Móna drivers will not be required to transfer to an external operator or operators and will have the option of redeployment on current pay and terms within Bord na Móna or voluntary redundancy applications may be sought.

Also within the WRC agreement was the proposal to appoint a joint industrial relations commission, which had been suggested as a forum to deal with issues such as this if there was contention around them. The contention around them is by virtue of the fact that the workers or unions were not afforded an opportunity to offer similar savings from within their own divisions to meet the demands that were being placed on them by Bord na Móna, whose overall reductions amounted to 30%, much of it from pay, as per the agreement that was reached with the entire staff in January. Based on the WRC agreement, in the event of dispute in areas such as this, there was provision for the setting up of a joint industrial relations council to further adjudicate on such issues. That opportunity has not been availed of, and now we have a situation whereby the transport staff voted yesterday on a work to rule. The unions may eventually take the opinion that this is a breach of the entire agreement, which has a knock-on effect on 600 workers. Intervention is needed to adjudicate on that and to allow the joint industrial relations council an opportunity to further adjudicate.

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Denis Naughten): Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I thank Deputy Cowen for raising this important issue and I acknowledge the presence of Deputy Eugene Murphy. It is an issue close to all our hearts. As Deputies Cowen and Murphy are aware, Bord na Móna is facing significant business challenges in the context of the deregulation of the electricity market and increasingly competitive and challenging environments across all its business areas. In order to ensure its continued success and survival, the company is implementing a programme to transform all areas of its operation and structure, the key objective of which is to improve business efficiency and effectiveness. In April 2016, following a series of negotiations with the assistance of the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court, Bord na Móna reached agreement with the Bord na Móna group of unions on pay progression and new working methods across a range of issues related to business transformation.

The specific matter raised by the Deputy is an operational matter for the company and not one in which I as Minister have a function or role. I have, however, sought a report from the company on the issues raised and am informed that the matters referred to by the Deputy cut across two specific areas. With regard to rail transport, I am advised that Bord na Móna transports peat to its three peat-fired power stations via its rail network. This work is carried out in accordance with the standards laid down in respect of the work methodology. Bord na Móna has confirmed that it is normal practice dating back many years to periodically review these standards to see if they can be updated to reflect developments, for example, in technology. I understand that this was done by an industrial engineer who reviews current practices and redefines standards.

The recently adopted general agreement under the WRC makes provision for this matter. Bord na Móna informs me that the loading and haulage work standards, which were outdated for many years, were reviewed during 2015 and updated in June 2016 to reflect modern equipment and workplace practices. I am advised that the new arrangements have resulted in reductions in bonus payments, in some cases by up to 12%. Bord na Móna has assured me that the Workplace Relations Commission agreement mentioned earlier clearly covers the adjustment and sets out an agreed compensation arrangement.

With regard to the outsourcing of services, I am advised that Bord na Móna currently transports some peat by road, which is quite expensive. Between 15% and 20% of all peat sold is transported by road. Bord na Móna's peat business has ten trucks and 18 permanent drivers, which carry approximately 60% of the peat transported by road. The remaining 40% is carried by third-party trucks. An analysis of the internal cost per tonne transported versus the third-party cost per tonne transported found that significant cost reductions could be realised if the road haulage was outsourced. The WRC agreement provides that outsourcing could be introduced where it results in cost savings, provided that employees are given the option to redeploy within Bord na Móna on their current terms and conditions. I am informed that the company has advised the unions that it intends to implement this outsourcing by 1 September 2016 and that all drivers will be deployed within the business on current pay terms. I understand that discussions are ongoing between the company and the unions on this matter.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen I thank the Minister for his response and acknowledge that he has sought a report from the board on this issue. I ask him to request that specific acknowledgement be made in the report of the submissions by workers or their representatives on their ability to achieve the same cost savings proposed in the outsourcing element of the cost-saving effort. I ask for that to be acknowledged, adjudicated on and responded to.

I ask that the board further acknowledge the provision in the WRC agreement that in the event of a dispute in an area such as this it was agreed by both parties that a joint industrial relations panel be put in place to adjudicate. If that is the case - and I am led to believe it is - we should not be discussing this issue here. It should be dealt with through that channel, because if that channel is not explored, authorised or respected, we are faced with a much bigger problem.

The Minister mentioned the challenging role faced by Bord na Móna and its staff. Over many years, there has been much transformation throughout the company. I hope to discuss with the Minister at a later date the options that exist for funding and tax in the area of gas emissions.

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