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Unions warn over Irish Water plans to axe 1,200 jobs

Published 07/10/2015

The charges imposed by Irish Water have sparked demonstrations
The charges imposed by Irish Water have sparked demonstrations

Trade unions have claimed that Irish Water is edging towards privatisation after it announced plans to cut its workforce by 1,200 over the next six years.

The much-maligned utility company revealed that the drastic plan would involve redundancies, retirements and redeployments as it targets saving 1.1 billion euro by 2021.

Siptu, the country's biggest union, said it will fight the plan.

Sector organiser Brendan O'Brien said: "Our union will vigorously resist any attempt by the management of Irish Water to reduce the number of workers providing this essential service.

"These workers are essential to the maintenance and the development of public water services."

Siptu joined trade union Impact in warning that the utility had not explained who would carry out work when existing staff are made re dundant but created the assumption that more work would go to private operators.

Both unions have threatened industrial action over the cuts.

Impact national secretary Peter Nolan said agreements are already in place with the Government, including protection against compulsory lay-offs, and warned the union would not rule out industrial action over the proposals.

"This latest plan seeks to arbitrarily reduce the number without considering the operational issues that are likely to emerge," he said.

Three hundred jobs have gone from the Irish Water payroll since it first came into operation last year.

Its new business plan examines how it will go from operating in 34 local authorities to becoming a single state utility with a 5.5 billion euro fund to eliminate the risk of drinking water contamination for 940,000 people and lift all boil water notices.

Irish Water also committed to cutting waste from leaks in drinking water supplies from almost half of what is in the system to 38% - saving 180 million litres a day - over the next six years.

On the problems of contaminated or poisoned supplies from old lead pipes, Irish Water said it will reduce the risks associated with it to 140,000 homes and another 40,000 homes on shared services.

Water from sewage treatment plans will no longer be discharged into the sea from 44 locations.

Multi-utility company Ervia's chief executive, Michael McNicholas, said: "Our water and waste water services are not fit for purpose to meet the needs of a modern society and economy.

"Much of the infrastructure is old and poorly maintained. Half of our water never makes it to the tap, we discharge untreated sewage on to our beaches, nearly one million people's water supply is at risk and we don't have enough capacity for our capital to grow.

"The European Court of Justice is pursuing Ireland for multiple failures to address the discharge of raw sewage into our environment. This cannot continue."

Amid the ongoing popular opposition to Irish Water and water charges with only about half of households paying for water, Mr McNicholas said the utility is the norm across Europe.

Less than half of people on public water supplies paid their first bill earlier this year but Irish Water is predicting that the refusal rate will come down, with 54% expected to pay the second bill.

Irish Water also highlighted some of its achievements to date, including 20,000 people off boil water notices; spare drinking water capacity in Dublin has gone from 2% to 8%; nine new drinking water treatment plants and modern waste treatment plants in Clonakilty, Carrigtwohill, Clifden, Leixlip and Galway.

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