Belfast Telegraph

Water crisis: Pensions system overhaul at heart of the union dispute

By Adrian Rutherford

Q. What is causing the problem - why are people without water?

A. NI Water staff are staging a work-to-rule action and refusing to respond to emergency calls outside of working hours. Last weekend up to 10,000 homes and businesses were left without supply across Tyrone and Fermanagh. This weekend another 2,500 properties were affected.

Q. Why are staff taking industrial action?

A. At the heart of the issue is a dispute about pension reform. NI Water's pension system is being changed as part of a radical overhaul right across the public sector. It means people will work longer for less money, and affects around one-third of all employees here. NI Water made proposals for changes to its pension scheme in July, which unions claim could cost members up to £100 a month. Nipsa, Unite and GMB voted for a work-to-rule and withdrawal of on-call services and overtime.

Q. What exactly do the unions want?

A. They have called for the increased contributions to be offset by a rise in salaries so that workers' take-home pay does not fall. They also want pension changes to be delayed for a year until April 2016.

Q. And what's the situation regarding NI Water?

A. It rejects the unions' claims, saying the increased contributions for most staff will be much less than £100.

NI Water also said any pay deal would have to include changes to some working practices, such as longer working days for some staff. The company said it has made three formal offers to the trade unions.

Q. How do things currently stand?

A. NI Water offered to meet with unions over the weekend, however, this was rejected.

Union leaders said the latest proposals, which NI Water described as its final offer, needed to be discussed with their wider membership.

Q. So what about the customers? How many have been left high and dry?

A. According to NI Water, up to 2,500 properties were affected yesterday across counties Tyrone, Londonderry and Fermanagh.

Q. What happens next - is an end in sight?

A. Yesterday the chief executive of NI Water Sara Venning warned the problem was likely to get worse, not better. However, Ryan McKinney from Nipsa said he hoped it could be resolved this week. He said members would be working this morning to reconnect as many customers as possible. Union leaders, who have asked for talks with Executive ministers, are due to meet NI Water today.

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