Retail Excellence Ireland, which represents the retail industry, has called on the Government to introduce legislation to ban industrial action by essential services like the ESB.

Chief Executive David Fitzsimons warned that if ESB workers go on strike, his organisation will actively assist members to switch to alternative energy providers.

Unions at the company are due to serve strike notice on Friday in a dispute over the pension fund deficit at the company.

Retail Excellence Ireland has warned that if that strike goes ahead, it could have make-or-break consequences for retailers depending on Christmas trading for their survival.

Mr Fitzsimons said the ESB currently has over 100,000 small and medium sized business accounts.

However, he warned that if the strike happens, his group would actively assist thousands of retail businesses to switch to what he called "more market-focussed energy providers".

He said ESB unions were demonstrating a culture of ignorance and opulence.

He urged Minister Pat Rabbitte to introduce emergency legislation to prevent a state network monopoly from holding the country to ransom.

Management and union talks are scheduled for Thursday in a bid to break the deadlock.

Earlier, one of the largest unions in the ESB confirmed that it will serve notice of industrial action on Friday 29 November.

Last Friday the ESB Group of Unions decided to serve notice of industrial action on the company in an escalation of its dispute over the €1.6bn deficit in the company pension scheme.

However, legally the group cannot serve the strike notice.

Instead, each of the five affiliated unions must individually approve the move and serve notice on behalf of its members.

The Energy Services Union, which represents around 1,200 administrative staff, held a meeting of its National executive Committee on Saturday and authorised the serving of notice of "industrial/strike action" on Friday to expire on Monday 16 December at 8am.

The ESU also called on ESB to avert the first all-out ESB power strike in 21 years by accepting its obligations to staff and their pension fund.

The ESB has consistently stated that following a restructuring in 2010, it has no further liability to plug deficits.

The other ESB unions - SIPTU, Unite, the TEEU and UCATT are expected to serve strike notice with the ESU on Friday.