The Employers' Group IBEC has accused unions at the Electricity Supply Board of holding the country to ransom by planning industrial action for next month.

Unions at the ESB formally served notice of industrial action on the company yesterday.

Industrial action may begin on 16 December unless agreement is reached in a dispute over pensions. 

The ESB argues it has no further liability for deficits in pensions following a restructuring in 2010.

However, unions insist responsibility continues to lie with the company.

Unions intend to take industrial action unless the dispute is resolved. 

IBEC chief executive Danny McCoy told RTÉ Radio that the strike risk is causing disruption already. 

Even if the dispute is resolved before any industrial action, he said the prospect of power cuts has forced some business to take emergency staffing measures to cope with a strike. 

Mr McCoy said he felt there was a degree of cynicism in the timing of the planned industrial action.

He said that unions had "seized the opportunity" to hold industrial action on the day after Ireland's exit from the EU/ECB/IMF bailout on 15 December. 

He also described the current dispute as not only damaging to workers in the ESB but also to wider society. 

"It's one of the critical pieces of the infrastructure make-up of this country and to be held to ransom at this point is not just damaging for that company and the employees themselves, it's also spilling over to the wider society," argued Mr McCoy. 

The Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte met a number of TDs, Senators and councillors this afternoon to discuss the controversial electricity pylon issue.

The meeting took place behind-closed-doors in a room in the INEC in Killarney, where the party conference is taking place. 

Earlier, the minister told reporters that consumers will be forced to pay higher electricity bills if underground high voltage powerlines are given the go ahead.

Overground power lines are the preferred option of Eirgrid but there has been a groundswell of support for underground lines from action groups across in rural communities across the country.

Minister Rabbitte said that laying the power lines underground has implications for the ESB bills, the electricity bills and energy bills of consumers.' 

He said, 'It will put up the cost of energy if a more expensive system of implementation is chosen and that is something as well the public and the consumers have to consider. 

The minister said that it is important for the Government to be 'sensitive' to the concerns of local communities.