What will happen to Irish Water workers once the charges are suspended?

Staff seek clarity as utility's revenue looks set to be slashed

What will happen to Irish Water workers once the charges are suspended?

Irish Water's HQ on Dublin's Talbot Street | RollingNews.ie

Workers at Irish Water are gearing up to fight any job cuts that might result from the suspension of domestic water charges.

Staff at the utility have been left in the dark about their futures since a minority government deal was struck last week.

Under the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil agreement, legislation to suspend the charges for nine months will be introduced within six weeks of a new government being formed.

The so-called “confidence and supply arrangement” will also see an external advisory body being established to advise a special Oireachtas committee on “measures needed to improve the transparency and accountability of Irish Water”.

The group will pay particular attention to the company’s “procurement, remuneration and staffing policies” under the terms of the deal.

But the union representing around 300 Irish Water staff has committed to opposing any redundancies or pay cuts.

Adrian Kane of SIPTU told Newstalk.com that it will resist any layoffs or change in employment terms that could arise from the planned “reconfiguration” of the company.

Mr Kane said the union’s position is that the 60 people directly employed in billing should be redeployed within the utility.

“It’s a growing organisation so I think there should be enough latitude to resolve any issues with those people who work on commercial and domestic billing,” he told this website.

Mr Kane added that the “polluter pays” principle will “have to be maintained” in any arrangement considered by the separate expert commission set up to examine funding models.

Legal advisers to Irish Water advised the utility earlier this year that water charges could not be abolished without breaching EU law - an argument widely contested by opposition political parties.

Mr Kane said SIPTU had outlined its position on staffing and remuneration levels in talks with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil before the election.

The union will seek clarity on staffing issues when it meets with management later this month, he said.

Mr Kane added that Irish Water staff are on “very low rates of pay” compared to workers in other utilities. He said he does not envision their salaries being reduced any further.

“They’ve been concerned [about their jobs] since the day they started,” he said. “It’s been a non-stop worry, particularly since the general election.”

'Political football'

IMPACT, which represents both staff directly employed by Irish Water and local authority workers providing services by the utility, said it would not comment on potential staffing implications until it has a clearer picture of the situation.

“The immediate effect of a suspension of water charges for the staff at Irish Water, and for workers providing a service to Irish Water under service level agreements from the local authorities, is not yet clear,” the union said.

“We have previously been critical of the manner in which Irish Water was used as a political football during the election, and the manner in which several political interests used this as a platform to vilify hard-working staff,” it added.

Cork-based management company Abtran, which holds the contract to run Irish Water's call centre, told Newstalk.com that it expects to be briefed about specific staffing requirements once plans for the utility's future are finalised.

“We understand that the outcome of any such political discussions and/or policy changes have not yet been conveyed to Irish Water and, in any such an event, we will receive a client briefing from Irish Water on their specific requirements in due course,” the company said.

“As a major company serving many large-scale clients, Abtran is very well used to being flexible to changes in client activity and business levels and is used to aligning and redeploying human resources requirements as needed.”

In the event that Irish Water should need to adjust its contract, it said, resourcing adjustments “would be phased depending on which operations would be under review”.

“We would be able to redeploy staff to other areas of our business on a planned and structured basis,” the company said.

Irish Water declined to comment when asked whether it foresees having to reduce staffing numbers or remuneration.

A Fianna Fáil spokesperson said the party will work with the new external body reviewing efficiencies in Irish Water to ensure it "delivers value for money to the taxpayer". Fine Gael had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.