Workers at Bord na Móna have accused the company of using the problems at its Mount Dillon operation to lay-off long-term staff members without pay.
Earlier this month, the company said it was laying off around 150 workers due to the closure of the nearby Lough Ree Power Plant.
Bord na Móna’s Mountdillon works supplies peat to the power plant.
The company has already let 78 seasonal workers go and unions say management is now planning to move forward with plans to lay off 18 permanent staff.
It had originally planned to let 72 permanent staff members go; however, alternative arrangements have been found for just over 50 workers.
Willie Noone, spokesperson for the unions involved in the dispute said workers have offered to “whatever is required, regarding going to any location to do any job and will take as much annual leave as they possibly can” to protect their status as permanent employees.
He said the unions believe the company is taking an ideological position to set the groundwork for its future dealing with staff.
“They want to send a message to staff that they can be ruthless and they can lay people off with one week’s notice – even if they 42 or 43 years service,” he said.
Bord na Móna
Unions are concerned that the company, which last year announced the closure of nearly 30% of its peat bogs, is “trying to set the framework for what the work environment will be over the next couple of years.”
“We have clearly said to the company we are not accepting that,” said Mr Noone.
“We will accept people being laid off in circumstances where there is no work or where there are no other alternatives.
“But we are not going to accept a situation where there is work, there are other alternatives and the company still insists on laying people off.”
The unions are next week planning to stage a demonstration in Lanesboro, where the power plant is located, to highlight the workers’ plight.
Mr Noone said talks with management have “taken a very negative turn” in the past 24 hours – and said workers were ‘disgusted’ to learn that senior management are to be paid bonuses next week, despite the difficulties facing the company.
He said all the workers are asking for is security of employment until there is clarity over what is happening with the Lough Ree plant.
“There is no need for a long-term agreement with the company regarding working arrangements,” he said.
“All we need to do is come to an interim arrangement that gets us through the next four or five weeks until we have clarity about what is happening with Lough Ree Power Station.”
Bord na Móna has contacted for comment.