500 Northern Ireland college staff offered redundancy
Almost 500 lecturers and support staff from Northern Ireland's Further Education (FE) colleges have been offered voluntary redundancy deals.
The Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) is funding redundancies for 212 staff who have already applied to leave before the start of the 2015/16 academic year.
This will cost DEL £9.4m.
A further 285 have been told they can also leave this year. They are being paid off despite the uncertainty over a massive multi-million civil service redundancy package designed to curb costs but is dependent on the Stormont House Agreement.
The redundancies slash the FE workforce in Northern Ireland, which stands at about 4,100 full-time equivalent staff, by just over 12%. The chairman of the Assembly's DEL scrutiny committee has said the redundancies were "another casualty" of the continuing impasse between the DUP and Sinn Fein over welfare reform.
Robin Swann of the Ulster Unionist Party said money would be better spent investing in further education to equip young people to enter the workforce "rather than divesting it of the staff that are there to support and develop their students". The financial burden was supposed to be funded by a £700m civil service voluntary exit scheme which formed part of the Stormont House Agreement.
However, the whole deal is now clouded in uncertainty until the Executive agrees on welfare reforms.
The department's budget was reduced by £62m earlier this year, from £756m to £694m.
As a result, the further education sector faces budget cuts of £12m. DEL Minister Stephen Farry has said the initial 212 applications for redundancies would come from his department's budget.
He added that his budget may also have to cover the costs of the additional 285 staff who have been made offers to leave later in the academic year.
Mr Farry said although "there is a degree of risk", the exit packages would save DEL money in the long run. "In the event a decision is taken on the main scheme for the public sector as a whole, then we hopefully will be able to backdate the money out of that scheme itself," he said.
"We've worked closely with the colleges and the trade unions, and I think everyone understands this is something we have to go through to ensure we have a modern, fit-for-purpose, public sector."