Saturday 25 May 2019

Irish Water: Abtran hires 350 temporary staff ahead of billing

Call centres have proved a lucrative business for Abtran
Call centres have proved a lucrative business for Abtran

Ralph Riegel

THE crackdown on householders who have not signed up to pay their water charges is set to step up in intensity with Irish Water set to hire more than 350 new temporary staff.

The positions will be created within Irish Water's contracted business services firm, Abtran, in advance of the first water bills being issued next month.

Most of the positions will be at the Cork-based business services centres in Mahon and Curraheen which are processing all Irish Water's back office functions.

These will include personnel to verify registered householders, process bills and follow-up on those who have not registered and paid.

It has been interpreted as a signal that Irish Water are now determined to maximise their revenue flow over the next 18 months.

The company confirmed the temporary jobs as part of their response to the billing process.

Anti water protesters gather outside the Fine Gael's National Conference 2015 in the TF Royal Hotel Castlebar. Pic: Mark Condren
Anti water protesters gather outside the Fine Gael's National Conference 2015 in the TF Royal Hotel Castlebar. Pic: Mark Condren

"Irish Water is in the final stages of preparation for billing with first bills due to issue in April," a spokesperson said.

"Irish Water is anticipating an increased volume of calls over this period. This is  the first time customers will receive a water bill and we will encourage customers to call with any queries they have in relation to their bills."

"In preparation for dealing with a high volume of customer queries and ensuring our customer experience meets the expectations of our customers, Abtran is hiring an additional 350 people. They will be based at the Irish Water contact centres in Cork and are temporary positions."

It is understood the positions will be filled on a contract basis, most for a 12 month period.

The recruitment came as the Government ruled out extra resources for the Department of Social Protection which has been charged with administering the new grant for each Irish household towards the cost of water charges.

But anti-water charge protestors warned that any attempt to crackdown on households which have refused to register and pay the new charge will be met with demonstrations.

Protestor John O'Donovan said momentum is now with the anti-water charge campaign.

"We won't be intimidated and we won't be bought off. Irish people won't pay this unfair tax," he said.

The Irish Water administrative expansion comes just five months after Environment Minister Alan Kelly and Irish Water boss John Tierney personally visited the Cork offices where charge forms are processed.

The visit was aimed at boosting morale following a series of protests and the revelation that staff were being targeted for verbal abuse and insulting mail messages.

Gardai investigated one incident in which suspected human excrement was smeared all over an Irish Water registration form before it was mailed to the sub-contractors.

A staff member at Abtran, the Cork-based office processing sub-contractor, had to be given precautionary medical tests after the letter was handled before it was realised precisely what it contained.

 The company, which handles back office functions for other State bodies including the Revenue Commissioners, confirmed the incident was referred to gardai.

 The levels of abuse and intimidation towards staff handling Irish Water forms is so great that staff specifically asked not to be photographed by media organisations covering the ministerial visit last year.

 Staff also revealed that the excrement-smeared letter, while revolting, is not the first abusive content received by workers from members of the public furious over water charges.

 Insulting material included with previous Irish Water forms have included vicious notes, used tampons and offensive drawings.

 One Irish Water sub-contract worker, who asked to be unnamed, said it is not unusual to see staff breaking down and crying on a weekly basis such is the level of vitriol being directed at them.

 "I am in my 40s and have children and it takes a lot to faze me. But even I have ended up crying on a couple of occasions such is the abuse you have to deal with over the phone," she said.

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