Workers oppose plans to transfer to Irish Water

Local Government Minister Eoghan Murphy has been warned he has “no chance” of winning support for his plans to bring 3,500 local authority workers under the control of Irish Water.

Fórsa trade union, which represents many of the staff, said the transfer could not happen in the absence of a referendum to underpin public ownership and control of the utility.

Unions are today due to meet Mr Murphy to discuss his proposals. Fórsa said it will warn him that the Government’s initiative is “fraught with risk and could jeopardise the continuity of safe drinking and wastewater supplies”.

Fórsa official Peter Nolan said local authority staff have growing fears that the mass move of council staff to Irish Water control could be a stepping stone to water privatisation unless a referendum takes place first.

“At our meeting with the minister, we will demand that the Government speeds up proposals to have a constitutional referendum to guarantee that water services will always remain under democratic public control,” he said.

We are deeply disappointed that the referendum has not been included in proposals, announced this week, for referenda next May.

Mr Nolan said water workers had no enthusiasm for proposals to bring them under the control of a commercial body, as envisaged by the Government.

“To do so without constitutional protection will create a disaffected workforce and public disquiet over the future of water costs and quality,” he said.

“This view was endorsed by the all-party Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, and has broad support in the communities we serve.”

Representatives of Fórsa’s Local Government and Municipal Employees divisions met earlier this week to consider an invitation to talks on the Government’s proposals.

The union says a decision on whether to engage in negotiations will be taken after the minister has responded to union concerns to be raised at today’s meeting, which also involves ICTU and Siptu officials.

Mr Murphy has invited unions to engage in a WRC-assisted process aimed at creating a framework for the proposed move to a single water utility by 2021.

This would be four years before the expiry of existing service level agreements (SLAs) between Irish Water and local councils.

According to Fórsa, in a letter to unions last month, departmental officials conveyed the minister’s offer of talks, which would “address the concerns of workers on future deployment of the current local authority water staff” through a collective agreement, in the context of a new ‘framework’ to replace existing SLAs.

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.