The pension dispute at NI Water was resolved last week but not before people in the north and west, including Dungiven, suffered severe hardship. Because of the dispute we discovered a startling fact about the company’s staffing arrangements.
Hardly any staff work outside office hours. NI Water doesn’t have a shift pattern. When something unforeseen happens,, it has to be dealt with on overtime rates. Overtime payments account for almost a fifth of salaries paid to front-line staff.
Could the ambulance service, the police or the health service be run on a 9-5, Monday to Friday basis? Of course not. If they were to follow NI Water’s arrangement, if something happened outside office hours management would call in staff on overtime rates.
How did that situation emerge in the water service? It’s an archaic working practice and that’s putting it kindly. Shouldn’t they at least have sufficient emergency response staff working shifts?
With a work-to-rule protest ruling out on-call or emergency cover, the public was left to suffer. In this case thousands of customers endured a shocking level of cold weather misery. Some even resorted to melting snow and drawing water from rivers.
Should NI Water continue to run their operation on an office hours only basis? According to company figures, widely reported last week, NI Water paid out almost £18 million in overtime payments last year.