Water services workers vote for strike unless job guarantees are met

More than 3,000 workers are affected by proposed move from local authorities to Irish Water

Local authority water services workers have given overwhelming support to a ballot on strike action to be taken if guarantees they say they were given relating to their transfer to Irish Water are not honoured by the Government.

Some 3,200 workers in total are affected by the proposed transfer which was agreed between the Government, unions and the utility company despite opposition on the part of many of the staff who fear for their public service status in the event that Irish Water is privatised at some point in the future.

There have also been doubts expressed about what roles workers might be redeployed to if, as is permitted under the terms of the deal, they opt to remain with the local authority that employs them.

Paddy Kavanagh, the general secretary of one of the unions involved, Connect, said the talks had been “drawn out over two years”.

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“The focus of trade union involvement in these discussions was lobbying for certain commitments for workers in relation to the impact of a Government decision to transfer the management and ownership of public water services into a single national public service utility.

“These commitments include the full protection of their terms and conditions of employment if they transfer to a single national water utility or to another department within a local authority.”

The ballot, he said, had been called for by the workers who wanted the way to be clear for industrial action in the event that the commitments were not honoured. The result, which was officially announced to delegates at the Connect biennial conference on Friday morning in Wexford, was a vote in support of the motion by 96 per cent of those who cast a ballot.

“At the conclusion of the talks, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage issued a framework document for the future delivery of water services which gives clear commitments in relation to our members terms and conditions of employment,” said Mr Kavanagh.

“A further document relating to issues including the holding of a constitutional referendum to secure the public ownership and management of water services was also produced. In this later document the Government accepts the principle of a referendum on the public ownership and management of water services.

“Our members believe enacting this in a timely fashion is the only way in which the Government can fulfil its commitment that their terms and conditions will not be undermined.

“The matter of the constitutional protection of public water services is one which directly affects our members’ employment. For our members protecting their status as public servants providing the most important of public utilities can only be done by the Government meeting its commitment to hold a constitutional referendum, so that the future status of their employment cannot be changed other than by the will of the Irish people.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times