Executive Minister Conor Murphy has been urged to freeze all bonus payments for senior officials in the Northern Ireland Water Service.
And a leading trade union said the company must turn the tap off on all bonuses after bills for thousands of customers were bungled.
A Stormont scrutiny committee chief said the recommended add-ons to salaries — revealed in the Belfast Telegraph yesterday — could not be merited.
DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen, deputy chair of the regional development committee which monitors Mr Murphy, said: “The amount paid in bonuses to senior civil servants has been a matter of major concern to the DUP.
”I would urge the Regional Development Minister to suspend any bonuses to senior officials in NI Water. The company is far from a model of efficiency: in a year that thousands of businesses have been overcharged for water, I fail to see how any senior official who presided over the creation of such a state-of-affairs merits a bonus payment.”
Mr Murphy said: “My department communicates regularly with the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) on all issues relating to the performance-based bonus arrangements for senior executives in NI Water.
“I am obviously concerned to ensure that any bonus payments are not excessive and I continue to monitor this situation.”
Albert Mills, senior regional industrial organiser for the Unite union, said: “It’s time directors and senior executives not only of the banks but utility companies take a rain check on paying out thousands of pounds to themselves.
“The management of these corporations seem to think that the recession is only for the little people in their employment.
“These top directors get paid whether they fail or succeed in competently managing a service. The buck is supposed to stop with them when things go awry but it seemingly now means they will carry away ‘bucketfuls of money’. Our members at Unite are demanding a stop is pu to this self-gratifying bonus process.”
While no final decision has been taken, senior Stormont sources told the Belfast Telegraph they were “aghast” when the bosses’ bonuses were approved and argued it was increasingly difficult to justify any salary extras in the current economic climate — even where senior personnel had performed well and achieved their targets.
NI Water said it strongly refuted figures claiming that some NI Water executive directors are in line to receive bonuses in the region of £25,000 to £40,000. “Executive Directors’ bonus payments are agreed in line with all Public Sector pay arrangements which state that bonuses must be capped at 10% of salary and cannot exceed £10,500.
“Bonuses are based on the achievement of specific challenging personal and corporate objectives. Independent Non Executive Directors, who do not receive a bonus, review these objectives and make the decision on whether bonuses should be paid.”
The bonuses emerged a week after this newspaper confirmed wrong bills were sent to more than 7, 000 non-domestic customers; around 5,400 of them have been overcharged — about half of them by more than £50 — while a further 2,400 have not paid enough.