The NI Water staff who this week called off their industrial action may not know the details of what they are being offered until next week.
Both the unions and NI Water itself have so far declined to offer any outline of the deal which saw the roughly month-long protest suspended on Wednesday, and yesterday one Unite official said it will likely be Tuesday before they meet with staff to explain what it entails.
It is not known exactly when the 1,000-or-so union members – from Unite, the GMB and Nipsa – will make a final decision on accepting the deal.
Meanwhile yesterday, former finance minister Sammy Wilson said that whatever the details of the mystery arrangement, it had the potential to cause unrest elsewhere in the public sector, where workers have been facing similar pressures on their pensions.
Joanne McWilliams of Unite said yesterday that a provisional meeting has been set for Tuesday with the staff affected and, asked why, she said: “Because the main concern was getting the water back on for the public. That had to be taken care of first... There’s a lot of water to deal with.”
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said last night he was “content to respect” the request to keep the deal confidential for the time being.
At the peak of the crisis, upwards of 10,000 properties – mostly in the west of the Province – had seen their water supplies cut off, with householders boiling snow to obtain fresh water.
The action began on December 22, when staff started refusing overtime as part of a work-to-rule regime.
At the heart of the row lay the plan by NI Water to increase the amount of workers’ salaries they pay into their pension pots to up to 7.6 percent (currently they pay about 1.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent depending on their scheme).
In addition, the company would cut its pension payment contributions from about 22 per cent of workers’ salaries to about 20 per cent.
The GMB union had said that the staff taking part were earning about £21,000 per annum.
Sammy Wilson said he could see “some justification” for grievance among staff, since those at the top of the company benefitted disproportionately from pension arrangements. However, he added: “I’ve no sympathy with being asked to pay more and retire later, because they’re not unique in that – everybody, public and private sector, are being asked to do that.”
He added: “This does set precedents for some of the far, far bigger groups of public sector workers. If too much has been given away here it could cause massive problems. What could happen then is other workers could say: ‘Right, that’s how water workers were treated – we want treated the same way’.”
He added that he thinks until a decision is actually taken by the staff over the new deal, “it’s right for it to remain private”.