Tuesday 20 March 2018

Irish Water staff waste claims 'unhelpful'

IMPACT Spokesperson Bernard Harbor
IMPACT Spokesperson Bernard Harbor

Alan O'Keeffe

Cash-strapped families facing the advent of water bills should be spared public claims that their money could be going down the drain, says a union boss.

Assertions that the new State company Irish Water will be paying too many staff have failed to hold water.

A public storm blew up when ESRI economist John Fitzgerald indicated the fledgling company will be "over-staffed". It was claimed 4,300 water service council employees could be working for Irish Water when maybe only 1,700 were needed to do the job.

An ugly prospect emerged of a bloated wage bill and pension entitlements being imposed on the company, and these costs transferring to hard-pressed bill payers. But the economist said later he would no longer be relying on those figures.

However, commentators had already evoked visions of wasted resources, idle workers and irate homeowners saddled with inflated bills.

Bernard Harbor of the Impact union, which represents hundreds of local authority water workers, condemned "unhelpful speculation" based on figures that "don't stack up".

He pointed out that most water workers would remain employees of their local councils. Local councils will continue to pay their wages and pension costs. Irish Water, which has taken ownership of the water network, will pay each council for operating the water network in its area. Irish Water has also directly hired more than 300 staff, including more than 100 former council staff. This was done by a publicly advertised competition. So no council staff were "off-loaded" on to the state company, said Mr Harbor.

A further 200 are expected to be taken on directly by the company. A large proportion of company staff will be involved in billing and customer service.

The figure of 4,300 water workers on local councils was out of date, and local authorities' staff levels had fallen by around one-fifth since the ban on recruitment, he said.

Also, it was mistakenly presumed this figure would remain the same for the duration of the 12-year agreement between the company and councils. But it is estimated that half of council water workers who are over 50 years of age will retire or take voluntary redundancy well before 2026.

Irish Water issued a statement to Industrial Relations News saying a figure of 1,700 for the number of water staff required was never put forward by the company. A 60 per cent reduction in staff levels within a few years has never been achieved by any utility provider.

It stated that current water staff levels "are required to maintain continuity of service in the initial phase. Irish Water will not be funded to pay for surplus staff".

The optimum number of staff would be determined by business needs, including "most importantly public health", under scrutiny of the regulator, said the company.

Mr Harbor said the public deserved facts, not speculation, as they brace themselves for the new water bills. They would find it tough enough to come to terms with paying new charges without being angered by claims that their money was going to waste, he said.

Irish Independent

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