NI Water: Uncancelled leave and serious management problems…

Sam McBride has an interesting snippet on staff holidays at Northern Ireland Water:

When asked if NI Water holidays had been cancelled over the New Year, a spokeswoman said: “No. Staff have been asked to come in and cover so each line manager is sorting that out with their staff to see what cover we’ve got and who is available, but staff have given up their holidays already.”

Mr Cobain said: “You can’t have people going on leave in this situation. These people went away on leave over Christmas as if nothing was going to happen.” Mr Cobain said it was part of a huge failure of planning. “We have three or four weeks of the most severe weather in 50 years, which was forecasted.”

Coupled with the lateness of the management to act on data received, you might also want to peruse at that staff survey from the summer to see that, whatever about the predicted severe conditions over the holidays, there appears to be a serious management problem ongoing inside the company…

As an aside, I spent the holiday period in various parts of South West England. In some places the conditions were as severe as at home. There were some burst pipes, but nothing like the toxic shock the Northern Ireland’s water system appears to be suffering.

Our politicians should not rest until they have adequate answers as to exactly why the scale of the problem on NI Water’s patch has been so disasterous.

The auguries are not encouraging. Fred Cobain, chair of the Regional Development Committee, “I don’t think anyone has any handle on the numbers. One of the big weaknesses has always been the reliability of the data they produce.” That’s an insight ruefully echoed by the Chair of the Northern Ireland Consumer Council.

The department’s obsessive focus on NI Water’s ‘accountancy fit’ with its own public sector procedures rather than making sure that NI Water is ‘fit for purpose’ has not helped either.

Rather embarrassingly for the Minister, that judgement has been made for him by his own party colleague, the deputy First Minister in the full teeth of a crisis he also clearly did not see coming.


  • Pigeon Toes

    Presumably the staff at NIW have the same legal employment rights, as the rest of us with every right to their leave.

    It would be interesting to know how many staff were “on call” and indeed if those staff were contacted.

    Whilst not personally affected, a big thank you to all the staff who have voluntarily given up their Christmas holiday, and are working all hours to restore ad supply water.

  • Cynic2

    Now they have announced an Inquiry I am sure it will be headed by someone truly independent who can be relied upon to get to the bottom of it no matter where it leads

  • Cynic2

    “Presumably the staff at NIW have the same legal employment rights, as the rest of us with every right to their leave.”

    I would presume their contracts would allow their employer to reasonably refuse or cancel leave at times of emergency. If not I would change them so they did.

    But I suspect this is a red herring. The staff do seem to have turned out and done a good job with the tools available. The questions are:

    1 why didn’t they call in teams from the private sector or other water companies to help

    2 given the public health threat, why wasn’t the Army called on for help to the civil power?

    3 what help did DRD seek from the British Government?

  • joeCanuck

    Cynic 2,

    You are quite correct in exposing the red herring. Given my knowledge of people in public service (including myself on occasion), they would have postponed their holidays to come in to deal with the emergency. It’s the senior staff who have failed, for whatever reason.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I have also worked on occasion for the “public sector” but hardly one that had any connexion to “emergency”. The ules back then were simple enough….the building had to be kept open so obviously people could not all take the same weeks off.
    But there was a system of give and take. Priority tended to be given reasonably enough to people with family responsibility…..if a woma was married to a man who worked in a job where HIS leave was two weeks in July, then it was perfectly reasonable that she got the same holiday time.
    And so on.
    I wonder about the enforceability ……when even the Firegighters can go on strike and other industries can have outbreaks of “blue flu”.
    If a family living in and around the average wage book a holiday to see Mickey Mouse, I would not want to be the person to tell them that your life is cancelled. Just how many MLAs were abroad at Christmas?
    My instinctive reaction here is to be on the side of the workers. Full credit t those who have worked thru the emergency. Full credit to those who ha booked some time off with their loved ones and volunteered to go into work.
    But I have nothing against those who got a phone call from an unpopular and better paid boss begging them to go to work and replied “get stuffed!”.
    This is a classic case of the generals blaming the nearest lance corporal for defeat.
    The problems at NI Water are not the staff out there in bad weather 365 days a year. Its the bosses…who when they fall on their swords will still get a better pay off.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “A spokesperson for Northern Ireland Water said today that all annual leave for its staff has now been cancelled and all employees are at work”

  • Fearglic

    Staff at the DWP have been asked to volunteer to cover the phones at the weekend for NI Water. after the way we get treated regarding a pay freeze I don’t think many will volunteer.

  • Cynic2

    “a pay freeze”

    Oh you poor thing, And there’s me been worrying about all this national debt and the poor people with no jobs. And its shackinn that in a crisis DWP should ask you – a ‘public servant’ – to help out when your fellow citizens cant get clean water to drink or even flush their loo.

    I really think its best all round that perhaps you have a wee look in the Bel Tel and take your career in a new direction – preferably one that the rest of us don’t have to subsidise. Tesco perhaps? Or McDonald’s – but I doubt you have the relevant customer service skills

  • Sean Og

    What is DWP?

  • malairt

    Department of Work and Pensions

  • Pigeon Toes

    “The Scottish Government is sending more water to Northern Ireland to help residents who have been without water for days.

    Five lorries, carrying some 120,000 litres of bottled water, are making the journey to Northern Ireland.

    The Scottish Government said a further two lorryloads of water would follow.

    Earlier this week 160,000 litres of bottled water was sent from Scotland to Northern Ireland.

    The new shipments were announced as thousands of homes are still without water while more than 20,000 continue to suffer interrupted supply.”

  • The main management problems are at Stormont as the politicians there have neither the experience nor the expertise to contribute to the solution; they are part of the problem.
    The water shortage has beenan inconvenience, not a major problem. No one died of water borne diseases and nor has anyone died of thirst.
    Comp-laints here of problems flushing the toilet point towards a bigger problem: the dependancy culture. Water was availalbe a plenty to do such things: rivers, sea etc. Fruit and veg have plenty of stored water in them.
    This was not Ethiopia, Indoensia or Iraq. It was a croner of Ireland where people want everything done for them and where its leaders, the puppets of direct rule, show once again that it is they who are unfit for purpose.
    Instead of driving up to Stormont for their photo shoots, they would have been better donating their subsidised cars to those helping to deleiver water to the truly deerving, those in charge of vulnerable people, as well as hospitals and the like.
    It is not a national disaster that the patrons of the Felons Club had to drink their whiskey neat for a few days.
    Some years ago, Danny Morrison wrote a letter to the Irish Times complaining of the standard of food on the Belfast-Dublin train. Kevin Myers replied, asking all kinds of pertinent questions regardingt the meals Sandy Lynch got prior to Morrisson’s arrest. The same applies with water. Sinn Fein should shut up and drink their whiskey neat until the crisis is resolved.

  • Fearglic

    Cynic2 For a cynic you are very cynical indeed and rather stupidly funny in a very sad way. You are I presume the bossman’s agent provocateur but idiots like you are Like little penny touts and will wither into obscurity in the long run. It seems you want an enslaved workforce.

  • Sean Og

    We have a Department of Work and Pensions? Never heard of it!

    All civil servants should be volunteering to help out on the NIW switchboard, if they have the skills. Can’t believe many would hold Fearglic’s views.

  • Drumlins Rock

    you walked straight into that one fearglic!

    Have some knowledge of how NIW & previously WS worked, as I had a relative and friend work for them, both have now left, taking considerable knowledge with them, one to a private firm that supplies much of the water to NIW (yes at least 40% of the water is supplied by a private company) the other to set up his own business, both were wondering over Christmas would they get calls when the thaw came to help out in these extreme circumstance, no call has come to date.
    They knew it was coming, on what scale, and even guessed where would be worst hit, but they are just spectators like the rest of us. Not only that but they told me many time over the years that it was only a matter of time before the system would fail, it was only the expertise and knowledge of the staff on the ground that kept it going due to its poor state of repair. However many of those staff have been paid off and we are paying the price now.

  • Comrade Stalin

    feargalic, that’s utter nonsense. People working for critical services routinely have their leave cancelled whenever there are emergencies. It has happened quite a lot lately with NIE who have had to come out during their leave to repair power lines etc, often in treacherous weather conditions.

    It is of course appropriate that people called into work in such circumstances should be properly compensated for it. But it’s not rubbish to say that it’s more important for people to get their leave than it is for tens of thousands of people to spend several days without water.

  • Frame

    Comrade Stalin is right to point out the impossibilism of so many public sector workers or those who speak for them.

    Let them eat cake is the strap line of this new aristocracy.

  • Mick Fealty

    I can’t imagine many people who work for NI Water would have particularly wanted to sit it out on the sidelines, if only because of the substantial peer pressure they’d get from friends neighbours and family members stricken by the current crisis.

  • How reliable is the information being released by NIW about number of customers off supply?

    Basil McCrea: “NIW New year statement about the problems being mainly in the Greater Belfast area confirm our worst fears. There are hundreds of homes in large estates in rural Lagan Valley that are not even on the radar.” 01.01.11 Noon

  • Mick Fealty

    How reliable? NOt at all, I would guess. How can you drain reservoirs in the middle of winter based, as the CEO has implied, largely on losses from pipes on domestic premises? We’re being given best hoped for scenarios which just cost NIW further credibility.

  • danidiot

    Is the Executive unable to issue a ban on the use of hosepipes and carwash facilites at this crucial time?

    Is even that beyond them?

  • 241934 john brennan

    Good on the Scots for sending us bottled water. They have more than enough clean water in Bonny Loch Lommond to supply the whole of UK. We also have plenty in Lough Neagh – but who would drink that, unless dying of thirst – and it comes laced with chlorine.

    The one good thing about buying bottled water is that it leaves us with no excuse for moaning about economic depression – paying through the nose for water- paying for the plastic bottle – and then paying, through the rates for recycling the bottle.

    Depression! What depression?

  • Drumlins Rock

    John, the majority of you do drink Lough Neagh water, and we are becoming increasingly reliant on it, how we would cope if there was a major poloution incident concerning the lough is anyones guess.

  • slappymcgroundout

    “Coupled with the lateness of the management to act on data received…”

    Yes, and if they had stayed, they could have prevented the earth from moving when the thaw came. Please, Mick, learn the basics when it comes to the science of the event.

    “How can you drain reservoirs in the middle of winter based, as the CEO has implied, largely on losses from pipes on domestic premises?”


    A dripping faucet or fixture can waste 3 gallons of water a day or a total of 1095 gallons of water per year. A 1/16” hole in a pipe or hose would result in a loss of 74,000 gallons of water over a three-month period. A 1/4” hole would result in a loss of over 1,180,000 gallons of water over a three month period. Please take the time to check your faucets and fixtures to make certain that they do not leak.

    How many 1/4 inch holes are there in pipes on private property?

    For one more:

    One recent study estimated that leaks consume about 13 percent of the water used by an average household, which means Maricopa County (Arizona) residents lost as much as 22 billion gallons in their homes last year, enough to supply a small city. Billed at an average municipal rate, that totals nearly $60million spent on avoidable losses.

    That should you give you some idea as to what can happen if there is a case of “unprecedented” leaks. I do not otherwise believe that they are attributing the low reservoir problem to private breaks: The focus is on continuing to work to repair bursts on the main water supply system which is impacting on reservoir levels and dealing with air locks in the system,” a representative said.

    Oh, and Mick re the blame it all on sacking the board hypothesis, to add to my remarks re the same on Turgon’s thread, you can add to Bristol, the Republic of Ireland:

    In Galway city, around 100 houses are without water, while up to 100 homes in Ennis are also receiving no supply.

    In the midlands, crews are working around the clock to repair damaged pipes in Co Westmeath, while water services have returned to most homes in counties Laois, Leitrim and Mayo.

    Dublin, however, is faced with restrictions for at least the next 10 days.

    Did the ROI sack its water board and this the consequence? When it happens in NI, the ROI, and in Bristol, blame the weather and not sacking the board.