Local authority staff fully prepared to strike if forced to join Irish Water, says Siptu

Union says priority must be to tackle chronic lack of investment in water infrastructure

Local authority workers across the country, who are members of Siptu, have warned the Government they are "fully prepared to take swift and immediate strike action " if they are forcibly transferred to the Irish Water utility".

The union said that scores of delegates at the annual general meeting of its local authorities’ sector on Wednesday made clear they would not accept any move by the Government to force them to join Irish Water.

Siptu public administration and community division organiser Adrian Kane, said: the workers were "fully prepared to take strike action and they have the full backing of our union."

The union said that crucial talks involving the Government, Irish Water and trade unions representing workers employed by the local authorities in the delivery of water services were due to take place in the coming weeks.

Mr Kane said: “Our members believe that the priority must be to address the chronic lack of investment in water infrastructure and for the Government to step up to the many challenges facing local authorities across the country. At a time when all the global trends point towards huge efforts by governments to grow the public service, workers in our city and county councils are being caught in a pincer like movement. On one hand, we have the centralising tendencies of the Irish State and, on the other, we have the ever-present danger of out-sourcing to private companies. Something has to give.”

Siptu sector organiser, Brendan O’Brien, said: “The reality is that our national politicians have reduced the democratic powers of the locally elected representatives, starved local authorities of essential revenues and through the privatisation of services they have starved our members of potential work and ultimately local government of purpose. Our members want to see this trend reversed at pace and to put power back into local authorities and to rebuild them for the 21st Century.”

Average spend

He said the average spend across the EU on local government was 22 per cent. He said Denmark – a country of comparable size to Ireland – spent 64 per cent.

“We spend a paltry 8 per cent . It is not sustainable. Our members believe that this level of funding means local authorities are being deliberately set up to fail in order for private profiteers to come in and provide the services the State should be providing in waste, water and housing.”

Last month the Minister for Housing and Local Government Darragh O'Brien said: "We want Irish Water to become the workplace of choice for those local authority staff right across the country who are currently delivering water services on behalf of Irish Water."

"We acknowledge workers' loyalty to their local authority and to their status as public service workers as well as their commitment to local service delivery. I am therefore asking that, through the aegis of the Workplace Relations Commission, management from Irish Water and the Local Government sector sit down with trade unions to develop a solution which allows us to move ahead with that world class public utility while respecting the concerns of local authority staff."