Fórsa will host a special joint meeting of its Local Government and Municipal Employees divisions on Monday 3rd December, to formulate the union’s response to government proposals for the transformation of Irish Water.
The Government announced its intention to create a single water utility by 2021 last year. This was four years before the expiry of existing service level agreements (SLAs) between the water authority and local councils, which employ most of the country’s water workers.
Fórsa told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government in June that SLAs between Irish Water and local authorities should continue, and that local authority staff should not be forced to transfer to a new entity.
Talks facilitated by the WRC (Workplace Relations Commission) took place over the summer. The WRC’s report observed that all parties agree on the need for the continued involvement of local authority water staff in the delivery of water services, and that unions oppose the transfer of staff to Irish Water without agreement.
In a letter to branch officials last week, head of division Peter Nolan said the proposals are to be the subject of extensive consultation within the two union divisions and colleague unions. “As they currently stand the proposals fall short of the union’s requirements as set out in our submission to the WRC,” he said.
Peter added the unions will demand a meeting with the minister to ensure that these principles are integral to any process.
Fórsa also said a constitutional referendum to secure the future public ownership of water services should be done in conjunction with local elections next May. This came as it was reported that the Cabinet was about to agree a wording for a constitutional amendment on the issue.
The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government wrote to unions last week, outlining Minister Eoghan Murphy’s position on the government’s proposals for Irish Water.
Mr Nolan said the most significant section of the correspondence was the minister’s request that unions and management would engage in a process to develop a framework for the future to replace current SLAs, facilitating the creation of a single water utility.
The minister said discussions should also ensure that Irish Water is not left without an appropriately skilled workforce, and local authorities not left with ‘stranded costs,’ and to address the concerns of workers on the future deployment of local authority water staff.
Mr Nolan said the development of an adequate response to the minister needed to be cognisant of a number of factors, including the expiration of the current SLAs in 2025 unless alternatives are put in place. He said there must also be a sustainable role for local government.
Other considerations include:
• The shape of future water services will be determined by the Oireachtas
• There is currently no detectable desire among local authority staff to transfer to Irish Water
• There needs to be constitutional protection to ensure water services remain in public control.
He added that the department has outlined its intention to address worker concerns without utilising existing legislation allowing the designation of staff to another entity.
“It has been a paramount concern of Fórsa that this legislation would not be used to compulsorily transfer staff to Irish Water,” he said.
The joint meeting will take place at Fórsa’s Nerney’s Court offices in Dublin at 11.30 am on Monday 1st December.