Electricity supply risk as industrial action set to start

Industrial action by workers at SONI could put Northern Ireland's power system at risk.
Industrial action by workers at SONI could put Northern Ireland's power system at risk.

Workers at a company responsible for a critical part of Northern Ireland’s electricity infrastructure are to begin industrial action on Monday, a trade union has confirmed.

The industrial action falls short of a strike, but the union is warning that things will “escalate fast”.

The Prospect union has informed Systems Operators Northern Ireland (SONI), the company tasked with making sure the electricity supply gets to where it is needed, of the industrial action due to begin on April 8.

The impact of escalating industrial action could be severe.

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs has warned previously that the work performed by SONI is so vital that strike action could see electricity blackouts.

The union says workers at SONI have not had a pay rise in four years.

SONI — a company which is owned, indirectly, by the Irish government — say they are “deeply disappointed” by the decision.

SONI has been part of the EirGrid Group of companies since 2009 and EirGrid is, in turn, a state-enterprise owned by the Dublin government.

Prospect negotiations officer Angela Moffatt said: “Action will start on 8 April, and will initially be action short of strike by Control Room staff.

“As we understand it, there will be limited if any, capacity to cover the functions they withdraw.

“We envisage disruption for third parties – in particular NIE Networks, Mutual Energy and Renewable Energy Participants.”

She continued: “If our members are forced to continue their action, we see an upsurge in cost and disruption to other SONI stakeholders and participants. Ultimately somewhere down the line that cost and disruption will pass to the consumer.”

Prospect members are not ruling out strike action.

Ms Moffatt added: “Our action has started off as low level in the first week. Make no mistake though — things will escalate and fast.”

SONI general manager Robin McCormick said: “It is deeply disappointing that the Prospect union is persisting with this action, which we firmly believe is unnecessary and avoidable. SONI remains open and willing to engage with the union, as we have been doing over the past 12 months.

“We met Prospect at the Labour Relations Agency yesterday (Monday), with the intention of finding a resolution.

“We value the vital work of our staff and we ensure they receive competitive salaries, which are regularly bench marked. This is in addition to pay increments and performance related payments which we continued to pay during the period concerned.”

He added: “This has the potential for financial impacts which will ultimately be borne by all electricity users. The action by the union means that we may be operating the NI power system with a greater level of risk at certain times.”