Minister urges unions to re-enter water reform debate

NIO Minister, John Spellar has urged trade unions to re-enter discussions with officials on Water Reform which is set to be introduced in Northern Ireland.

The Minister, who has responsibility for Regional Development, was speaking after union representatives walked out of a meeting with officials on Wednesday to discuss the implications of Water Reform for Water Service staff.

He said: "I am very disappointed by the decision of Water Service Trade Unions to walk out of a meeting with my officials.

"I recognise that the unions have strongly held views on water reform but there are also major issues of concern to their members that need to be discussed.

"Government policy for some time has recognised that the water industry needs major investment, needs to be self financing and needs to be more cost effective.

"I had instructed my officials to open discussions about the principles and approaches for seeking reductions in Water Service staff levels for the period up to March 2006 in line with already stated Government policy.

"Those discussions are designed to take account of staff concerns and give them a say in the development of policy. I would urge Trade Union side to re-enter discussions quickly."

The feedback on the first phase of public consultation for the reform of water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland, which closed on 20 June, has been one of the largest ever responses to any local consultation process.

The public consultation on the 'Reform of Water and Sewerage Services in Northern Ireland' sought views on a number of issues including the basis on which water charges should be set; how best to protect the consumer within a charging regime; and the most effective business model for the delivery of water and sewerage services.

However, many people across Northern Ireland feel the introduction of charges are unnecessary.

A delegation from the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) have already met with Prime Minister Tony Blair to argue their case against water charges in the province.

They believe such measures could result in a loss of a many as 600 jobs if current proposals are introduced.

The Government argue that once fully introduced, water charges will enable an extra £300 million to be pumped into public services every year.


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