Water workers strike for guarantees over terms and conditions

By Robert Cosgrave 

In mid-July, over 100 local authority water workers in multiple councils organised in Unite took three days of strike action. The responsibility for this strike lies squarely at the hands of local authority management, who have refused to engage with workers following their rejection of the ‘Framework for the Future Delivery of Water Services’, which deals with the transfer of water workers from the local authorities they currently work for to Irish Water. 

These workers want real guarantees about the terms and conditions of this change. Those moving to Irish Water would keep their status as public sector workers and the conditions that go with that. Those remaining in local authorities should be guaranteed appropriate alternative work within the local authorities and not just forced to accept whatever the employers try to throw them into. 

Unite also calls for a date set in Framework for a referendum guaranteeing water remains a public utility in the Constitution. The management has refused to budge on any of these issues, making this struggle inevitable as the workers are correctly not backing down either.

Need for a united struggle 

The Socialist Party fully supports the struggle of water workers here. Their work is essential to maintaining a clean water supply – one of the necessities of keeping society running – and deserves to be treated as such. These workers, not the management, play the essential role of keeping our most important utilities running despite decades of underinvestment in the necessary water infrastructure. Equally, it is imperative that water remain a publicly owned utility that enjoys proper investment and is democratically run for public need, not profit. 

The debacle of private water companies in Britain, where these companies spend more on shareholder dividends than investing in vital infrastructure, makes this all the more apparent. It is essential that workers in the other unions representing water workers see the importance of the fight those in Unite have taken and join this struggle. 

There is a tremendous amount of support for water workers organised in SIPTU for the action taken by Unite. SIPTU must now follow suit and ballot its members to take action and join the rest of the workforce in future industrial action. The tack of the local authority management would very rapidly change if faced with a united struggle across all 31 councils. A victory for the water workers would provide an important lesson to all workers across Ireland about what can be achieved when they get organised.

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