Northern Ireland Water (NI Water) has warned that planned industrial action by union members could have “severe” impacts on water supplies over the Christmas period after talks failed to resolve disputes over changes to the pension scheme.

Workers are planning to start industrial action – which includes a withdrawal from overtime and refusal to provide on-call services – from 22 December for an “indefinite” period due to a dispute over the company’s pension scheme.

The dispute is over plans by NI Water to scrap the current pension scheme which the GMB claims will see staff needing to “work for more years for less” and cost them up to £100 per month.

The industrial action is likely to lead to supply disruptions as more than 1,000 members of staff are set to take part, affecting NI Water’s 2,700 treatment works and pumping facilities.

NI Water also warned that the quality of discharges from wastewater treatment works to water courses would be “adversely affected”.

The water company warned that water quality could deteriorate, some customers may experience interruptions to supply, and that there could be delays to responding to problems such as burst pipes.

NI Water chief executive Sara Venning said the company will take “all possible steps to mitigate any potential impact” but the industrial action will leave “very limited in-house resources to operate and maintain our water and wastewater assets and infrastructure.”

She added: “All that will be achieved by undertaking industrial action at this time is to cause distress and potential hardship to the public.

“I would appeal to unions to consider the suite of proposals which have already been put on the table and which I feel represent a fair and equitable outcome for their members, particularly at this time of budgetary pressure across the public sector.”

Talks on 17 and 18 December between the water trade unions and the Northern Ireland Assembly’s minister for regional development Danny Kennedy ended without agreement.

GMB regional officer Alan Perry said the union representatives “unanimously rejected minor concessions tabled by NI Water management” on behalf of the state-owned water company.

NIPSA Assistant Secretary Ryan McKinney added: “The unions have set out their position to both the minister and NI Water and unless the pension proposals are taken off the table staff will take action from Monday.

“The trade unions are willing to continue with negotiations right up to and beyond the 22 December in order to attempt to find a solution and avoid disruption to communities.”

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