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Local authorities are not prepared for strikes by water and firefighting workers, Siptu warns

Staff in local firefighting and water divisions are to stage separate strikes starting next week.

LOCAL AUTHORITIES HAVE not given sufficient notice to the public that water services and local firefighting units will be disrupted due to strikes, according to trade union Siptu.

Siptu members employed in Retained Fire Services will begin a strike on 6 June over what they say is an inadequate response to recruitment and retention issues.

Water workers at 30 local authorities are to take part in a two-day strike next week on 7 and 8 June over the terms of employment if transferring to Uisce Eireann (formerly Irish Water).

The Retained Fire Services are fire and emergency response units delivered at a local level. Striking members of these services are due to restrict their work to only responding to emergency calls.

Disruption to water services may include boil-water notices being put in place and no water supply in some areas.

Siptu has said that the lack of preparation for the strikes by local authorities is “irresponsible”.

Karan O’Loughlin, a Siptu divisional organiser, said: “Our members in the retained fire service and in water services are reporting that, in most counties, management has no specific contingency plans in place and are not undertaking any public information campaigns.

“Local authorities have a responsibility to advise the public that there will be disruption to the fire and water services but have not done so.

The two-day strike in the water services will mean that boil water notices may be necessary and that, in some areas, business and domestic users may have no water for periods of time.

Siptu said earlier this month that the dispute is a result of “the failure of management to adequately address a worsening recruitment and retention crisis in the service”.

Strikes ‘not necessary’

Darragh O’Brien, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, said today that the strikes were not necessary.

Responding to questions from Labour TD Duncan Smith, O’Brien said the remaining issues between the workers and the department can be resolved without industrial action and were “very small” in number.

Smith told the minister that he and the government had “trumpeted and celebrated” the high employment figures in the country when workers’ conditions were being squeezed.

Figures published by the Central Statistics Office yesterday showed the monthly unemployment rate for May was 3.8%, the lowest rate since records began in 1998.

“However, if we look under the bonnet, what workers are really facing in this country is a crisis in terms of their real wages, in their terms and conditions of employment, and how far their actual wage packet is going,” Smith said.

He said there had been “no contingency plans” from local authorities in relation to boil water notices or safety notices.

O’Brien said he had been “actively engaged” in the issue over the last two years.

“I gave a firm commitment, firstly, that was sought by the unions, that no-one would be transferred to Uisce Eireann on a compulsory basis, that people will be transferred over with existing terms and conditions, all of this is confirmed in correspondence, I’ve met directly with the unions myself.

“Those who decide to stay within the local government sector will have their terms and conditions also protected.”

He clarified that contingency plans are being worked on by local authorities.

“I don’t believe strike action is necessary. There’s a small number of issues that remain that can be worked out.”

On firefighters, he said: “We’re continuing to engage with union representatives in this regard and I believe we can come to a resolution that will mean we can retain people in the fire service, but attract more, because there has been a big issue in attracting newer staff to this and we heavily depend on the retained fire services and, indeed, the full-time fire services.”

“We’ve made real progress on the rostering, we’re progressing on time off, we’ll probably progress on allowances also. I want this resolved.”

O’Brien said that the programme for government had committed to holding a referendum on water and on housing, and “I expect that to happen”.

Retained Fire Services employees are to stage a series of rolling work stoppages starting on on 13 June with the action set to escalate to an all-out strike on 20 June “if the dispute has not been resolved”, according to Siptu.

Additional reporting by PA

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