Belfast Telegraph

Why NI Water union and its work-to-rule disgust me

By Gail Walker

You know, listening to the representatives of the unions involved in the NI Water 'work-to-rule', it makes one really despair of the society we live in.

The weekend before last, 10,000 homes were without water. Last weekend more than 1,300 homes were without water, mainly in counties Tyrone and Londonderry.

Of course, there are all kinds of argument and counter-argument in industrial disputes. But this isn't about job losses. This is about pensions.

An offer was made by NI Water on Friday, which the company thought would encourage staff to provide the usual emergency cover while the offer was considered.

Not a chance, of course.

Instead, we got the following sanctimonious rubbish from Nipsa: "When workers in an important public utility decide to take action, unfortunately that will pit them against other working people as well, and all of them are really being affected by the Government's decision."

What we really have here, of course, is a union, as usual, looking to make its presence felt "against the Government".

A union which represents the least popular, but most powerful section of our workforce - those in the public sector; and in protection of the most lucrative public sector pensions in Northern Ireland.

Charming.

To hear these tin-pot car park orators lecture us as taxpayers and ratepayers about what they need to do to secure their pension negotiations - ie make the community suffer as a form of blackmail - is to be cast right back to the worst excesses of union politicking, which happily no longer prevail in GB, but which still have their rump exposed in Northern Ireland. It's "I'm Alright, Jack" all over again.

Listen to this from the comrades sitting at home with their mugs of tea watching the footie while whole tracts of west Ulster had nothing but squeaky taps and others were advised to boil their water because of failure to service water-cleaning stations: "If that offer had been one that we felt would have been accepted by our representatives and the wider membership, we would have been in a position to reinstate the emergency protocol."

Meanwhile, water was being left in containers at lay-bys across the province.

Only a few years back Northern Ireland was the laughing stock of the world as scenes more suited to a developing country followed the inevitable burst pipes of the thaw after the big freeze.

It was a scandal of epic proportions, the scale of the breakdown in services matched only by its longevity. Of course, no one was to blame, as usual.

Now, without a blush, we are back to the plastic bottles, boiling water, dry toilets and kitchens, this time courtesy of the very workers who at that time threw up their hands and blamed everybody else for the failure of an industry they work in. Management, bosses, Government, oh anybody.

Well, it isn't acceptable. It's not acceptable for workers in any utility to ship off out when it suits them and then return to work the following day as if nothing had happened.

If it is the case that it can suit them, for whatever reason, then that needs to change.

Some unions are so thick and so bogged down in their own politics - endless emails about Cuban solidarity, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - that the prime purpose of their employment is regarded with resentment. Hence, the ease with which the risible and quite insulting rhetoric of "our workers use water too" can actually be trundled out in defence of leaving vulnerable people even more exposed to the elements.

Nipsa disgusts me. The failure to uphold the "emergency protocols" disgusts me. The blackmail disgusts me.

In an economic climate when jobs are actually being lost, NI Water's employees are worried about the size of their pensions, when we all know pensions have been squeezed, reduced, amended and renegotiated over the last five years since the recession hit.

But the cosseted crews of public service workers in The Wee North, who have by and large been cushioned from the severe bite of the cuts elsewhere in the UK, still think it's 1979. Well, it's up to NI Water and the Stormont administration to tackle this blackmail properly, once and for all.

We have a water monopoly in Northern Ireland. These Nipsa workers refusing to maintain essential services are themselves enjoying the benefits of a monopoly. Rest assured, were there other suppliers here, Nipsa wouldn't be so quick to urge this disgusting action on its members.

But there aren't. And they are. And it's you and me who suffer, as usual.

It's time to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that none of us are held to ransom by the public sector here - any aspect of it.

The unions should remember that this isn't 40 years ago.

  • Follow me on Twitter: @GWalker9

Gail Walker's 'disgust' at unions is unjust and jaundiced 

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