Thursday 27 October 2016

Irish Water staff to receive backdated pay-rises

No apology for staff after Labour Relations Commission recommendation

WATER WORKS: The Minister of Environment, Alan Kelly, left and John Tierney, managing director of Irish Water
WATER WORKS: The Minister of Environment, Alan Kelly, left and John Tierney, managing director of Irish Water

A senior figure at Irish Water parent company Ervia has refused to apologise to staff for abandoning their performance-based pay structure.

Irish Water employees are to receive backdated incremental pay rises of up to 3pc following a recommendation from the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) today.

It is hoped that the proposal will end the ongoing row over the performance-based pay structure which was introduced in 2013 for Irish Water and Bord Gais Eireann (now known as Ervia), which was aimed at securing savings of over €34m over five years.

The new structure saw automatic incremental pay rises replaced by performance-related awards. There was also to be a pay freeze until 2016.

However, it was described as a bonus culture by critics as the controversy over Irish Water mounted last year.

The company responded to criticism by refusing to pay the performance-related awards for 2013 and 2014 and also refused to reinstate the increments.

The LRC criticised the company today and recommended it reinstate the pay structure.

Speaking to RTE Radio One, Group Head of Employee Relations at Ervia Mr Paul Dunne said it was always the company's intention to return to the pay model.

"We do accept [today's decision]," he said.

"We spent time at the LRC discussing this.

"We took a decision, and it was a difficult decision in 2014 not to pay performance-related awards under our pay system.

"The reasons [for removing the system] were very well outlined. It was a difficult time for the company, there was a lot of controversy around what was in our view misconceived as a bonus culture.

"There was quite a lot of vindication of our staff.

"We took the view to take a step back, but we have always believed in the model, we confirmed that in our report. It was always our intention to get back to the payroll."

When asked if Ervia take value in agreements, Mr Dunne said:

"We take great value in agreements, we take great value in our trade unions.

"I wouldn't say it was the first sight of controversy, it was difficult for us because there was a lot of controversy at the time around the model, a lot of news headlines, a lot of articles. We didn't cave in, we took the view that this is damaging the company."

When asked repeatedly if the company wished to apologise to staff for abandoning the pay scheme, he replied:

"We negotiated in good faith, we made it quite clear it was our intention to get back to the model.

"We did tell staff that by the end of the year we would bring clarity and certainty... in addition, we always stated it was our intention to get back to the payroll.

"At the end of the day, this isn't an industrial relations dispute.

"We took a decision, a difficult decision, our staff work very hard, we appreciate that.

When asked again if the company wished to apologise, he continued: "This is the industrial relations process, we entered it in good faith and we came out with an agreement.

"We made a decision based on the best path available to us. We've taken time out, we've reviewed our payroll."

Following today's agreement, the pay model introduced in Ervia in 2013 is to be implemented in full immediately across the Ervia group, though implementation in Irish Water will be delayed until 2017.

Immediately, Irish Water employees will receive increment payments covering the period from January 2014 to the end of 2016.

The non-pensionable increments will range from 1.5pc for lower paid grades, to 3pc for all other grades.

Once the performance-related system will be reinstated in Irish Water in 2017, the increments will be withdrawn.

In a statement issued to Independent.ie this afternoon, Ervia said: "Ervia has confirmed today that it will accept a proposal in relation to pay from the Labour Relations Commission following its engagement in dispute resolution procedures with its Group of Unions in recent months.

"The Group of Unions will now be balloting this proposal with their members."

The group said that the pay model is "typical of that in most private sector companies in Ireland" and said the model "does not enable or encourage high levels of pay".

They added: "There is no evidence of a "richly rewarded bonus culture" in Ervia.

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