I doubt if anyone of us will, ever again, have much confidence in the public sector organisation which supplies us with water.
Who amongst us was not horrified at the situation ordinary householders and farmers, particularly in the west and north of the province, found themselves at what has turned out to be the coldest time of the year with snow and ice all around.
In fact that snow turned out to be a blessing for some, as they were able to boil it for domestic use. A Co Londonderry mother of five described her experience as ‘utter hell’. I believe her. The man from NI Water who suggested this lady and her family move until the problem was sorted should be disciplined.
When a union representative emerged from the talks between the two sides to say a deal had been struck I wanted to wipe the smug look off his face. Did the workers get what they wanted? We are all heartily sick of public sector workers pleading poverty when, in the main they still have inflation proofed pensions and conditions which wouldn’t be tolerated in the private sector. We now know that water workers, in the main, work a band of hours covering 8am to 6pm with only a small number doing shifts. If they have to work at weekends they can claim time and a half or double time.
NI Water, it was quoted in the newspapers this week, is ‘riven with archaic working patterns’. But then this organisation is funded by taxpayers as is all of the public sector where there has been little incentive to introduce the modern practices already present in the private sector.
Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott was quoted as saying that the working structure of NI Water was outdated and must change. Did our Assembly not know that or were they praying that a disaster wouldn’t happen? Well, the disaster has happened and the workers of NI Water must now get a lesson in how the public sector is having to change from the previous largesse of annual above inflation salary increases and pensions mostly funded by taxpayers. The move to public sector employees paying more of their own money into their pensions is only fair to those in the private sector who don’t enjoy the luxury of inflation proofed pensions funded by employers. Every tax paying pensioner in the country – and that includes me – expect public sector workers to pay more themselves. The howls from NI Water employees and their Union that the proposed changes could see them having to pay £100 or more a month into their pensions are pathetic. Do they not realise that this change happened in the private sector years ago. I know what it cost me at the time.
Stormont’s emergency meeting about the water crisis read like a train crash with MLAs not really getting to the heart of the dispute according to News Letter reports. They couldn’t even find out what was agreed to end the dispute for the moment. This is unbelievable and will reinforce the view of most people that MLAs know little about the real issues surrounding them. I can just imagine what the critics of Gogglebox would say if they were discussing the crisis.
An angry reader in our Letters to the Editor page hinted that military engineers and independent contractors should have been brought in. I was shouting at the screen all week to bring the Army in. That, of course, would not have gone down well with Sinn Fein but hopefully they now have to answer to their electorate in the west and in places like Draperstown who will want answers about what their elected representatives were doing when they were out in the freezing temperatures scooping up snow to melt for washing dishes. This was the week when political leadership melted like the snow. Surely it won’t happen again.