Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Public sector pay: For once, the upper hand is ours

Margaret Canning, Belfast Telegraph business journalist
Margaret Canning, Belfast Telegraph business journalist

The private/public sector gap is one of the most vexing and perplexing issues facing the Northern Ireland economy and, despite years of discussion, it doesn't seem to be getting any simpler.

Yesterday's figures from Nisra show that 94% of the 22,500 or so civil servants in Northern Ireland have received pay rises in the last year – of as much as 40% in the case of administrative assistants (AAs).

That has resulted in AAs earning around 18% more than their counterparts in other parts of the UK. The fact that the preponderance of lower pay for such entry-level jobs in the private sector is used as a selling-point for foreign investors, is an irony not lost on critics of high public sector pay. And those in the higher echelons of public service here are less well paid than in other parts of the UK.

Those in favour of public sector pay increases – trade union Nipsa, and Neri, a think tank funded by trade unions – argue that it has to be viewed as a good thing that those in more lowly jobs in the civil service are more well paid in Northern Ireland, while those in the senior roles are less well paid, than their UK counterparts.

Last year, David Cameron got into a spot of bother over his plans to break up the civil service into geographical locations with varying pay.

With Northern Ireland almost always the poor cousin, lagging behind the rest of the UK in economic prowess, it's amazing to think there's one area where we have the upper hand.

But whether that upper hand in how we pay our administrators acts ultimately as a curb on their career ambition, is another story.

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