Unions representing 3,500 water services staff in local authorities are to meet Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy on Thursday to discuss government proposals to transfer them to the Irish Water utility. 

Fórsa held a meeting of its Local Government and Municipal Employees divisions today to consider the invitation to talks which would be overseen by the Workplace Relations Commission. 

It said it will decide whether to engage in negotiations after Thursday's meeting.

The Government wants to effect the transfer of the relevant staff from local authorities to Irish Water by 2021 - four years before the current Service Level Agreements (SLAs) between Irish Water and various local authorities are due to expire.

However, Fórsa has said it is adamant that local authority staff should not be forced to transfer to a new entity against their will.

Many local authority staff who are public servants would fear that transferring to Irish Water would see them lose certain benefits and security of public service status - and Fórsa has previously indicated that there is no appetite among employees to move to the water utility.

There are also concerns that local authorities could be left with legacy costs after the transfer, should it proceed.

The Government has already indicated that it is prepared to consider a referendum to guarantee that water services would remain in public ownership - another key demand of unions.

A review conducted by the WRC over the summer noted that all parties agreed on the need for continued involvement of local authority water staff in the delivery of water services, but that unions oppose any transfer of staff to Irish Water without agreement.

Fórsa national secretary Peter Nolan said whatever framework emerges from any engagement would have to deliver security for local authority personnel, constitutional guarantees that Irish Water would stay in public ownership, and a sustainable future role for local government, which Fórsa believes is being diminished.

He warned that the process would be difficult, and warned the Government that the outcome was not predetermined.

He also warned the Government against any attempt to transfer staff against their will.

SIPTU Divisional Organiser Adrian Kane said that his union had a number of red line issues.

He said it was essential that people should not be "conscripted" into Irish Water, adding that at present, the overwhelming majority of SIPTU's local authority members would resist such a move.

He said that if people were to transfer, their terms and conditions would have to be protected. 

They would also need clarity about the proposed referendum on water ownership.