Unions oppose plan for job cuts at Irish Water

Unions representing water services workers are to demand guarantees that job losses at Irish Water will be minimal after the company said it wants to shed 200 jobs a year for the next six years.

Two of the unions, Impact and Siptu, have warned they will ballot for industrial action if the company tries to push through excessive cuts.

They will formally state their stance when they meet as part of the consultative group of trade unions and management at Irish Water and the local authorities the week after next.

Eamonn Donnelly, Impact national secretary, said the staff reduction plan revealed by Irish Water yesterday appeared in breach of the 12-year service level agreement the utility had with the local authorities covering the gradual takeover by Irish Water of all local authority water staff, plants, and responsibilities.

“I don’t think dropping 1,200 staff is doable. We’ll see how Irish Water justifies it. But if Irish Water steps outside the service level agreements, we’re going to have a problem,” Mr Donnelly said.

Irish Water has 600 staff plus 3,915 local authority staff working for it under the service level agreement. The plan is to have 3,200 in total by 2021.

Michael McNicholas, chief executive of Irish Water parent Ervia, said staff numbers had already fallen by 300 through natural wastage, and that some of the remaining 1,200 cuts could be achieved similarly.

“There will be a combination of natural wastage, I think there will be redeployment within the local authorities and there will be some form of voluntary redundancies,” he said.

“There will be no compulsory redundancies.”

The job cuts are part of the company’s business plan which outlines a €5.5bn investment in infrastructure up to 2021, and commits to €1.1bn in running costs savings in the same period.

Employers group Ibec welcomed the plan, saying the investment in the country’s creaking water infrastructure was essential.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin questioned the plan given the scale of the borrowings required for investment. Both pointed out that since Irish Water had failed to pass the EU test to prove it was a standalone company rather than another arm of government, it would have difficulties borrowing in the open market.

Separately, the Department of Social Protection said just over half the 1.3m people eligible for the €100 water-conservation grant had applied for it last night.

The deadline expires at midnight tonight. Applications can be made at watergrant.ie and helplines are open until midnight, on 0761 087890, 021 2065880, and 1890 100043.

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