Government plans to introduce water charges have hit a major stumbling block with 2,500 local authority staff preparing for strike action out of fear for their jobs.
Plumbers, inspectors, water/sewerage caretakers, and network staff employed by city and county councils to maintain water services are to be balloted by Siptu over the “transfer of assets and duties of Siptu members to Bord Gáis and other sub-contractors” as part of the establishment of Irish Water.
When the creation of the public water utility was announced, the Department of the Environment said there would be a “phased transition of functions from local authorities to Irish Water” and that local authorities would be engaged as “agents” for a “considerable period”.
“These arrangements would end in 2017 at the earliest based on the independent assessment,” it said.
However, the department says staffing levels would ultimately be a matter for Irish Water.
In recent weeks, Siptu has held a series of meetings with its members in regions including Cork, Dublin, and Galway.
“All those meetings expressed anger at the decision by the Department of the Environment to proceed with removing their jobs and responsibilities, and transfer it out of the local authority system with no consultation and no discussions with people who have worked for decades delivering water services,” said Siptu sectoral organiser Michael Wall.
He said any move to transfer the work out of the councils would trigger the action, and he also accused the Government of refusing to sit down with staff representatives.
A department spokesman said it was its intention to engage in “full and frank discussions” with staff and representatives before transfers take place. He said the department was waiting for an implementation plan from Bord Gáis.
Impact, which represents thousands of officials in the water service, has warned that once Irish Water is established with an income from water charges, the temptation to privatise it will be “immense”.
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