Chaos In Cork With Water: Residents To Protest At Uisce Éireann

Residents will be protesting at Uisce Éireann (formerly Irish Water) on Saturday 10 February in Cork at 12 at the Eglington Street offices on Saturday. People Before Profit calls on all its area members and supporters to support.

Residents have seen discoloured water across the city. The water is unusable in some areas, even for cleaning.

Residents attended a meeting organised by Cork North-Central’s People Before Profit-Solidarity Mick Barry TD. The company was invited to but did not attend sending apologies instead. This was typical of how the company deals with affected residents the meeting heard.

On Monday 22 January Cork County Council passed a motion to abolish Uisce Éireann and the return of water service responsibility to local government.

The same happened when Ted Tynan’s motion passed by a 2-1 margin the same night in Cork City Council. ‘It’ll be a great encouragement to the workers and the people who have been badly let down by them. The situation isn’t tolerable.’

Cork TDs have the same frustrations. Letters and emails going have not dealt with the substantive issues and complaints. Mick Barry’s call for a protest was welcomed and will demonstrate a growing popular dissatisfaction with UE with trouble around the country not helped by steady loss of the experienced workers who maintain the system.

In 2022 and 2023 water workers organised a series of protests in rank-and-file groups led by shop stewards and workplace leaders communicating positions online. They built a public facing campaign which operated social media under the name Water Services Workers Ireland. They protested against the Framework Document governing the transfer agreement to the new national body. They marched on local councils (Cork, Kilkenny Carlow and more) as well as against their union halls and conferences (Wexford), focussing overwhelmingly on SIPTU, the union leading negotiations with the Local Government Management Authority (LGMA) and Uisce Éireann.

Since 2014 and 2015 workers in councils across the country have been complaining of complicity between the main council employed water workers’ union SIPTU, government, and management at Irish water.

They say the unions had reneged on promises and avoided or substituted the typical democratic processes in trade unions leaving them no option but protests which went as far as to march on their own trade union halls

Most workers want to keep their public sector status. Transferring to Uisce Éireann is out of the question because it is risky in terms of income and status. But there are also arguments about union and workplace democracy as well as shared fears about the ongoing privatisation of services provision.  Some workers are leaving water service and Uisce Éireann is relying less experienced temporary contractors to maintain the water works.

Unite the union’s new leadership in Dublin responded to a protest at its Dublin hall by holding a members’ meeting. Members took a democratic decision to reject the framework transfer agreement document which had been previously accepted by Unite as well as SIPTU, Fórsa and Connect. This document was to steer the transfer of the workers in water who are employed as local public service employees to Uisce Éireann. Unite’s vote rejected the document. Unite is still the only union to allow or hold a ballot on the Framework Document. Unite is now outside the agreement and struck in June and August 2023 for meaningful engagement from the Local Government Management Authority for its members.

One of the major demands of the Water Services Workers Ireland campaign has been the call for a proper referendum on the provision of water in Ireland. They have called for a referendum on water. Campaigners against water charges knew the wording could be divisive and commissioned wording which would preclude privatisation by stealth of the services:
The Government shall be collectively responsible for the protection, management and maintenance of the public water system. The Government shall ensure in the public interest that this resource remains in public ownership and management.

Unions responded to this demand with a Name The Date campaign which has yet to see results. Meanwhile government has opted to run two other referenda this march demonstrating their fear of spreading
The chaos of Uisce Éireann’s management of water services in Cork or further stirring up legacy of the water marches where people showed their anger at a government that tried to ignore the power of people and workers in parties and unions that were organised to fight back.

On 10 February Cork will see a return to people’s protests for their right to water. We will stand with them.