Sunday 21 October 2018

Irish Water: We’ll cut controversial bonuses - but only by 4pc

The disclosure was made by Environment Minister Alan Kelly
The disclosure was made by Environment Minister Alan Kelly

Anne-Marie Walsh  and Paul Melia

IRISH Water has agreed to cut controversial bonus payments to staff - but only by 4pc.

Workers in the commercial semi-state are in line to receive a maximum 'performance-related payment' of up to 15pc of salary, but a further 4pc payment which applied to those who "far exceeded" expectations has been axed.

The move comes amid continued public opposition to charges with weekend marches planned across the country.

There are also concerns about the pay model employed in the water company which, it is feared, will add to water bills for customers.

Irish Water uses the same pay model as employed by its parent company, Ervia (formerly Bord Gais Eireann), where a portion of salary is paid in bonuses if targets are reached.

Staff remain in line for bonuses ranging from 2.75pc to 15pc for reaching these targets. However, a further 4pc bonus will not be paid.

The disclosure was made by Environment Minister Alan Kelly in response to a parliamentary question from Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae.

"Irish Water has indicated to my department that the maximum Performance Related Award of pay ranges from 2.75pc to 15pc," Mr Kelly said.

"While I understand that the Ervia pay model allows for a further 4pc performance-related award to be made in circumstances of exceptional performance, entirely at the discretion of the board, I am assured by Ervia that the maximum percentages to be applied in Irish Water will be as set out in the range provided above."

He added that "no decision" had been made in relation to any bonus payments being approved.

It comes as the Irish Independent has learned that householders are on course to spend up to €1m phoning Irish Water's 'LoCall' customer care centre. Mobile operators, including O2, are charging up to 35c a minute for calls to the 1890 number.

Irish Water has confirmed it got 350,000 calls since the start of the year, so the public has already splashed out in the region of €857,500, even before the first water bills come through the door.

A typical call to the new utility company, which lasts an average of just over seven minutes, costs at least €2.45 if you are using a mobile at the 35c rate.

 

Some customers, including Cork South West TD, Jim Daly, revealed he has been left waiting up to 42 minutes.

The charging revelations come after Tanaiste Joan Burton accused the company of having communication issues.

So-called 1890 'LoCall' numbers were originally set up to allow customers pay the same rate to call a business regardless of where they live.

But the advent of inclusive minute packages by mobile operators means that extra charges are added to their bill for LoCall numbers.

Call costs vary widely from 5 cents to 35 cents a minute for 1890 numbers depending on the phone operator and whether a call is made from a landline or mobile.

Phoning the call centre, which is open 24 hours, seven days a week, is one of the ways householders can apply for water metering.

A recent statement from Irish Water said 5pc of households are applying for water allowances and ensuring their details are correct for billing purposes by phone, with most using the post.

But the amount of calls has soared as an extended deadline for applications looms on November 30.

An answering machine at the Irish Water call centre said the customer service team was currently experiencing high call volumes yesterday.

Communications Officer Elizabeth Arnett said 350,000 calls had been dealt with since the start of the year, 250,000 of these up to end of September, and 100,000 within 10 or 12 days after that.

She admitted that the delay experienced by some callers was unacceptable.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Environment and Local Government, Barry Cowen, called on the Minister for the Environment and the Revenue Commissioners to consider converting the LoCall number to a freephone one.

"Householders will be forced to pay an average of €278 for their water," he said.

"A 30 minute phone call at 35 cent a minute will cost a householder over €10.

Flat-rate

"This is considerably more than any call to a flat-rate helpline would cost. Callers are also often unaware of the costs they will incur on these LoCall numbers.

"The frustrating thing for many householders is that often the queries are to notify Irish Water of a problem of their making, for example, the fact an Irish Water pack has not been sent out or the water meter is not working properly.

He said that automated voice calls, which the helpline uses, last longer for callers, and in many instances callers are forced to wait over 10 minutes before they can speak to an operator.

Irish Water said there was "absolutely nothing of advantage in terms of profit" by choosing to use a 1890 line, which it said was standard practice for utility companies.

The Commission for Communications Regulation said 1850 and 1890 numbers are shared cost numbers that allow the caller to be charged for part of the call charge with the called party being charged the remainder.

It said Irish Water could not be taking a cut of the cost to consumers as shared cost numbers "cannot be used for revenue sharing".

Irish Independent

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