The biggest challenge arising from Government proposals to bring water services under a single authority will be ensuring the future of local government itself, according to the head of the Fórsa’s Local Government and Municipal Employees’ divisions.
Speaking at the union’s local government conference last week, Peter Nolan said this “big fight” would follow if the Government “takes away 25 to 30 per cent of local government’s funding stream,” which comes from water payments.
Peter had attended many meetings of members in the water sector, and said that 3,000 water workers considered themselves under threat from the Government proposals. But he said all 30,000 local authority workers were vulnerable from the impact on direct employment and local council finances.
He added that Fórsa and other water unions had agreed to go into talks about the transformation plans on the basis of assurances that “there would be no compulsory conscription of local authority workers to any single entity.”
Last month, Fόrsa invited branches in its Local Government and Municipal Employees’ divisions to make comments on plans to establish Irish Water as the sole water authority in Ireland.
In his opening speech to last week’s conference, Divisional Cathaoirleach Seán Reid said the union’s priority was to keep water in public ownership. A number of conference motions called for an early referendum to guarantee against privatisation.
The unions, which are in Workplace Relations Commission-assisted talks on the future of water services, have sought simultaneous movement on four strands:
• The future sustainability and revitalisation of local authority services
• A constitutional referendum on public ownership of water services
• The structure and governance of the proposed single water utility, and
• Employment and industrial relations issues that arise from the proposal.
“Our objectives are clear, and our resolve on these issues is strong. We have placed ourselves to defend and protect the public ownership of water services, and our members’ terms and conditions of employment,” said Seán.
He told delegates that the reversal of water privatisation was underway in a number of European municipalities, because privatised services had led to higher costs and poorer services.
“From Cherbourg to Stuttgart, Bordeaux to Budapest, and Rostock to Naples, and a host of other European municipalities, the privatisation of water has been successfully reversed, while the campaign to re-municipalise water services continues in Lyon and Toulouse in France and Sofia in Bulgaria,” he said.