Unions suspend water company action

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Published: Wednesday 21st January 2015 by The News Editor

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Industrial action that has left thousands without water in Northern Ireland has been suspended, union leaders have announced.

The move comes after b osses at Government-owned Northern Ireland Water tabled proposals to resolve the pensions row during late-night negotiations with union representatives at the Labour Relations Agency in Belfast.

Out-of-hours repair services had not been carried out as normal as the result of a work-to-rule by staff over proposed changes to their pension scheme, leaving thousands of homes cut off from water supplies.

Around 1,250 customers remained without water today but earlier in the week more than 9,000 lost supply.

Counties Fermanagh and Tyrone in the west of Northern Ireland were the areas worst affected by the problems, with customers having to collect water from temporary tanks, and some even being forced to boil snow.

Around half of NI Water’s 1,260 workforce were engaged in the industrial action.

The dispute centred on NI Water’s bid to roll out public sector pension reforms that have already been implemented in other state organisations in the region.

Staff resisted the moves, claiming their monthly pension contributions were set to soar.

Union representatives said the offer from management represented “significant progress” and, as a result, the action would be suspended pending a ballot of members.

Unite industrial officer Joanne McWilliams said: “The Water Group of Trade Unions (WGTU) is satisfied that sufficient progress has been made to allow us to consult with our members on the offer put to us.

“Shop stewards have agreed that the industrial action can be suspended to allow a consultation with members before conducting a ballot.”

She said it would not be appropriate to share details of the offer until the ballot had been conducted.

“The immediate focus of our members today is to work to support NI Water in restoring services to customers across Northern Ireland, particularly in the West,” she said.

The Nipsa, Unite and GMB unions are members of the WGTU.

NI Water chief executive Sara Venning welcomed the development.

“This is welcome news and my continued focus is now on working with our staff to restore services to all our customers,” she said.

Stormont’s Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy, who has ultimate responsibility for the arms-length company, said: “This is positive news for the public, especially those in the West who have experienced significant disruption to their water supply.

“The Unions will now have to ballot their members and NI Water will work on the business cases to secure the relevant approvals.

“I want to thank the Labour Relations Agency for the important role they have played in these negotiations between the Trade Unions and NI Water management.”

Published: Wednesday 21st January 2015 by The News Editor

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