Northern Ireland

NI Water warns of more disruption to supplies

Bottled water Derrygonnelly, County Fermanagh
Image caption Bottled water was handed out in Fermanagh earlier this week.

Northern Ireland Water has said disruption to supplies this weekend could be worse than that experienced in counties Fermanagh and Tyrone earlier this week.

The interruption to service is being caused by ongoing industrial action by trade unions.

Nipsa, Unite and GMB members voted last month for a work-to-rule and withdrawal of on-call services and overtime.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy met the unions on Wednesday.

He said any resolution would have to be within the Northern Ireland Executive's current pay and pensions policy.

'Minimise impact'

NI Water chief executive Sara Venning said on Friday it was unfortunate that industrial action saw customers being denied an "essential public service".

She said she felt the proposals in the latest offer presented to the unions "could be acceptable".

She appealed that while the proposals were being considered that there would not be an impact on customers and that some measures "are put in place to protect the public drinking water".

"We are working round the clock from an operational perspective to minimise the impact on customers," she said. "We have been talking to the unions almost daily.

"We are working late into the night to try and find a proposal and a common ground that would enable the unions to withdraw and to suspend this action."

In a statement on Friday, NI Water said that since the meeting on Wednesday "intensive negotiations" had been ongoing and it had made a third formal offer to unions "which includes movement on pension issues as well as the potential for a two-year pay settlement".

It said that while this offer was being considered the company had sought a re-instatement of the Christmas arrangement to protect public health and critical customers, but this was declined.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption NI Water chief executive Sara Venning said the company had presented another offer to trade unions

"The result of this is that customers across Northern Ireland now face the prospect of supply interruptions on a scale greater than those which affected Fermanagh and Tyrone during the week," it said.

"The company has sought to end this dispute by putting forward a number of proposals, but the key demand from unions that pension reform be deferred is not something that NI Water management have in their power to deliver."

The company said that over the weekend, the major incident regime which has been in place since before Christmas would continue.

"This regime has allowed us to largely maintain services across the province. The extent of our infrastructure is such, however, that if the emergency cover which has been withdrawn is not re-instated, our customers will suffer," it said.

"Unfortunately the extent and exact location is something which we cannot predict in advance."

NI Water said that where customers are off supply for more than 24 hours, it will seek to provide alternative water supplies.

"Our ability to provide these alternative supplies will also be impacted by the industrial action being taken," it added.

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