Retail Excellence Ireland has called on the Government to introduce legislation banning industrial action by companies managing essential services, such as the ESB.

Unions at the ESB are due to serve strike notice on Friday in a dispute over the €1.6 billion pension fund deficit at the company. 

If row is not resolved by 16 December, workers have threatened to take industrial action from that date. 

Chief Executive of REI David Fitzsimons warned that such a strike could have make-or-break consequences for retailers depending on Christmas trading for their survival. 

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

Mr Fitzsimons claimed that the ESB currently has over 100,000 small and medium-sized business accounts and such a mass-defection could cost the ESB dearly.

Mr Fitzsimons said ESB unions demonstrating what he called a culture of ignorance and opulence should not be supported. 

He urged Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte to introduce emergency legislation to prevent a State network monopoly from holding the country to ransom, as he put it. 

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 December 16 at 8am. 

The ESU also called on the 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 on Friday.

Talks between management and unions are scheduled for Thursday in a bid to break the deadlock - though so far, both sides are sticking to their diametrically opposed positions.