THE Northern Ireland Civil Service is paying administrative staff up to 18% more than their counterparts in most UK departments.
New figures show an administrative assistant in the NICS can earn up to £17,533 a year, based on 2012 pay scales, compared to just £14,820 for the equivalent position at the Department for Work and Pensions.
The gap is also inflated for administrative officers, the next grade up, where those working for the NICS could command a salary of £22,180 against £18,245 at the Home Office.
Job description for both these posts includes "data input, file management and dealing with public telephone enquiries", according to a NICS recruitment document.
The data, from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, shows higher paid grades in the civil service are largely on a par with their counterparts in the UK but the gap for the lower grades (so-called AA and AO level) highlights the task ahead of new finance minister Simon Hamilton who has pledged to reform the public sector by making it more efficient so it's able to win more work from other government departments.
By doing so, he believes the private sector here can benefit from increased public procurement, but being lumbered with a hefty labour bill will make winning new business harder.
Bumper Graham from the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance said the pay disparity between government departments is a result of equality regulation which sought to reduce the gap between administrative and technical jobs in the civil service. That, he said, was the majority of posts at AA and AO level were filled by females while males dominated the more technical posts. And he didn't think the differential between departments would mean the NICS would lose out on government contracts.
He said: "Over the years the NICS has been able to attract jobs in relation to civil service work. That's because of the quality and the standard of the work carried out by our members."
However, business groups, already riled by the 44% pay premium between public and private sector workers in Northern Ireland (compared to 17.8% across the UK as a whole), think more restraint needs to be shown.
"There is little if any evidence of recruitment difficulties within the public sector – having 15,0000 applicants for 400 administrative posts only goes to demonstrate how out of balance pay levels have become," Nigel Smyth, director of CBI Northern Ireland, said.
A DFP spokesperson confirmed the differential was the result of a pay settlement and stated: "The relatively high pay scales for AA and AO...are a result of the equal pay settlement which aligned them with the equivalent technical grade pay scales."