Press Release

SIPTU NEC statement on water charges

Date Released: 24 October 2014

At its monthly meeting today (Friday 24th October), the National Executive Council of SIPTU agreed the following statement on the issue of water charges.

1.      The Government must take a step back and rethink its approach on the way it is implementing the water charges regime. It must defer the payment which is due in the Spring of 2015 and develop a way of providing for the new investment that is required over the next number of years to fund the provision of a high quality treated water supply in a way that commands a reasonable degree of acceptance, while retaining it in public control and ownership.

2.      The new approach must offset the cost of an adequate supply of treated water to meet each household’s normal domestic needs, while preserving the incentive for conservation.

3.      We believe that the Refundable Tax Credit option, which would cost less than €350m per annum, is the best approach, thus far at least.

4.      As it stands, and in the absence of such a rebalancing measure, the proposed charging structure is profoundly regressive and inequitable. This is because, whereas people’s normal need for water doesn’t vary greatly, the impact of the charge affects those on lower to middle incomes to a much greater degree in relative terms than the wealthy. The plain fact of the matter is that there are far too many people who simply cannot pay, and too many more who will find it extremely difficult to do so.

5.      If the Government does not adjust its approach, we will seek engagement with others in the trade union movement, as well as relevant civil society organisations, with a view to developing an agreed policy solution to provide for the necessary investment in the water supply in a manner that retains it in public ownership and control and conducting a campaign on that basis.

6.      Abolishing charges and reverting to the general taxation system will not mean that people pay less. In fact, it will mean paying more through increased taxation or further cuts in public services or both.*  Indeed, we will pay more still for the water we use, because in the absence of measures to incentivise conservation, we will also be paying for the amount that others waste.

7.      A campaign that does not identify a clear policy solution could open the avenue for privatisation of this essential public utility, notwithstanding what the law says, or the declared commitments of the main political parties.** This could come about by reason of the inability of Irish Water to collect the revenues necessary to enable it to remain solvent as a commercial entity. This, in turn, would open the way for the introduction of private money to the detriment of necessary investment in favour of profit taking, as occurred in Eircom.

8.      The privatisation of the domestic refuse collection service provides a salutary lesson. Everyone now pays the domestic waste charge, but it goes to swelling the profits of private operators. Thousands of people on lower incomes whose charges were waived now have to pay the full cost. Meanwhile, the terms and conditions of employment in the service have been reduced to deplorable levels.

9.      We also call on everyone to refrain from all forms of attacks and intimidation of workers. These cannot be condoned or defended in any circumstances.

*See point 3 of “Background notes” attached here.

** See point 4 of “Background notes” attached here.

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