More than 200 PSNI officers have threatened to topple their federation amid a bitter row over controversial pension reforms, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
In an "unprecedented" move against the body that represents rank-and-file police officers, 203 constables, sergeants and inspectors have issued votes of no confidence in the Police Federation's top officials and central committee.
The officers are furious at Government plans to increase their retirement age to 60 and to reduce their pensions. Until now officers have been able to retire on full pensions after 30 years' service.
Officers retiring before April next year and those who are within 10 years of retirement as of April 2012 will not be affected. These are predominantly former RUC officers.
The disaffected group of officers have accused the federation of not doing enough to challenge the reforms. They now want to get rid of the body's central committee and officials – including long-term chairman Terry Spence – and replace them with officers sympathetic to their cause.
The federation said it was aware of the "justifiable anger" over the proposed pension reform but stressed it was Government that had the final say.
"Unlike negotiations on pay and terms and conditions, what is happening on public sector pensions is a national issue where the Government can arbitrarily impose its will," the federation said.
It added that "as always, we will continue to work for the most favourable terms for all our members".
However, one of the officers involved in the campaign against the federation said the view among many colleagues is that former RUC personnel "have had their pension positions protected and the newer PSNI officers have, at best, been given a bad deal or, at worst, not even thought about."
The officer added: "A movement I never imagined I'd ever see has now sprung up, in which newer, younger officers are questioning what the 'fed' actually did to protect them."
The Belfast Telegraph understands that several hundred disgruntled officers have attended meetings at locations across Northern Ireland to discuss their discontent with the federation.
They are attempting to gather enough votes of no confidence in the federation's central committee and its four full-time officials to force them to stand down.
They then hope that a by-election will ensure that officers sympathetic to their case will be elected onto the central committee and top posts to launch a legal challenge against pension reforms.
Should their plan to oust the current leadership fail, officers have threatened to withdraw their monthly subscriptions and look at setting up their own trade union.They have vowed to take a legal challenge against pension reforms themselves and have begun discussions on self-funding the action.
Jimmy Spratt MLA, a former vice-chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, described the campaign by officers as an "unprecedented rebellion".
"I'm not aware of any previous such moves by federated members and it is significant that such a big number of officers appear to have joined together to make these moves," the DUP man added.
However, those within the pro-federation camp have rubbished any suggestion of a "revolt".
"This is not an attempt to overthrow the federation – 203 votes of no confidence out of 6,600 federation members, that is just 2.6% of officers, is not a revolution," the federation source said.
Under the proposed pension reforms the normal pension age for police officers will increase to 60. However, officers will be able to start to draw their pension, with a reduction, if they retire at 55. The reduction will likely be between 4% and 5% for each year that the pension is taken early. Officers retiring before April next year and those who are within 10 years of retirement as of April 2012 will not be affected by the changes. PSNI officers angry about the changes have accused their Police Federation of not doing enough to challenge the reform and have issued votes of no confidence against the body's officials and central committee.
Would you expect your grandfather to do this work at 60?
An officer's view
Tom Winsor, who is responsible for these pension reform proposals, believes police officers can police until they are 60 years old.
This from a man who has never stood toe-to-toe with rioters for hours and hours at a time. I'll bet he's never heard noises at night downstairs and had to waken his entire household and get them started on a pre-planned evacuation drill.
Would you expect your grandfather or grandmother to be doing this type of work at 60?
I love my job, I joined because I believed it was my vocation. I have buried friends and colleagues, I have been forced to move stations, change my car and stop picking my kids up at nights from youth clubs because someone wanted to kill me while doing so.
When I joined the job 20 years ago I didn't worry about pensions. Fast forward 20 years and it's all very real. I've just been told I can still leave the job at 50 as I'd planned, but for every year under 55 I will lose 5% of my pension. When I go at 50 with a full 30 years pension I will lose 25% of it.
New officers are to bear the brunt of these reforms. They must now work 35 years for less of a lump sum and less of a pension, yet contribute more.
A movement I never imagined I'd ever see has now sprung up in which newer, younger officers are questioning what the 'Fed' actually did to protect them. They believe former RUC officers have had their pension positions protected and the newer PSNI officers have, at best, been given a bad deal, at worst not even thought about.
It begs the question, who'd join the police now?
- The officer interviewed has requested anonymity
We argue for change but it is Government that has the final say
The federation view
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland central committee are aware of the justifiable anger over proposed pension reform.
Only last week, in a significant concession, the Government decided to give way on its proposal to increase the retirement age to 57 and revert to the original position, which was 55 years.
This was a major bone of contention and the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, alongside others, made strong and reasoned representations that led to this matter being taken off the table.
We can argue for change but, ultimately, it is the Government that has the final say.
Unlike negotiations on pay, terms and conditions, what is happening on public sector pensions is a national issue where the Government can arbitrarily impose its will. As always, we will continue to work for the most favourable terms for all our members, building on the success of the recent pay and conditions negotiations which were very well received by the rank-and-file and which included protected pensionable pay and allowances and accelerated pay progression for those junior in service.
It is to be remembered that local federation representatives, the central committee governing body and full-time officials are subject to re-election in the forthcoming triennial elections due to take place in early 2015.
These democratic elections are conducted under agreed mechanisms and are open and transparent.
- From a statement issued by the Police Federation of Northern Ireland