Unions win strong assurances on Irish Water

Thursday 19th December 2013

IMPACT and other unions have received strong written assurances from Irish Water on concerns they raised about the forthcoming transfer of local authority water assets to the new state company.

In detailed letters dated 17th December (Tuesday) and 18th December, Irish Water has clarified that service level agreements (SLAs) will specify what staffing resources are required. IMPACT had raised concerns over this issue in a meeting of the Irish Water Consultative Group last week.

Irish Water has confirmed that SLAs will specify the staff headcount required on commencement of the agreement. Thereafter, annual service plans (ASPs) linked to the SLA will set out exactly how many staff will be needed. This will then be subject to review each year as the ASP is reviewed – arguably a stronger safeguard than originally envisaged.

The17th December letter also makes clear that terminations of SLAs are not envisaged, and sets out the very specific circumstances in which suspensions might occur at the end of a specific process to address any service failures. It says that performance issues will be addressed at monthly reviews between Irish Water and the local authority – another safeguard that they will be addressed well in advance of a sustained problem that might lead to suspension of an SLA.  

The letter also sets out the extremely limited emergency circumstances in which outsourcing might occur. It also makes plain that, should it arise, any outsourcing would be for a fixed temporary period before operations returned to the local authority.

Legislation

The letter also identifies the clauses in the recently-published Water services No.2 Bill, which clarify that assets will not be transferred from Irish Water to any third party person or organisation. The bill provides for the transfer of services to Irish Water and sets out details on metering, charging and penalties for non-payment.

The letter also says a Government amendment will ensure that the legislation underpins the union-negotiated agreement that local authorities will operate water services on behalf of Irish Water for at least 12 years. Various other union concerns about the legislation, including over staff pension issues, will also be addressed through Government amendments.

Separately, IMPACT national secretary Eamonn Donnelly says he has received satisfactory assurances that none of its members will be ‘conscripted’ into the new water company against their will. Together with the Tuesday’s letter, Eamonn said the firm assurances were enough to allay union fears about staffing issues.

Confidence

“The uncertainty surrounding the future of water services – not to mention jobs, pay and conditions – has made 2013 a difficult and uncertain year for staff.  But, between the negotiated agreement and the legislation, I believe staff can now face the future with renewed confidence,” he said.

Eamonn said the 17th December letter also confirmed that there would be agreed local procedures for continued consultation with IMPACT and other unions on key issues including budgets and workforce planning. It also confirms ongoing consultation on local authority annual service plans. “IMPACT will continue to monitor all developments very closely. We intend to ensure that the protections set out in negotiated agreements and legislation are fully reflected in the reality on the ground,” he said.

Separately, the Department of the Environment has totally dismissed claims by the Dublin city manager that the council will be left with unsustainable liabilities following the transfer of water assets on 1st January. The department pointed out that the council’s liabilities – including costs of over €440 million – would transfer to Irish Water along with the assets. And it said Irish Water would be paying councils for the pension liabilities of the local authority staff concerned.