Thousands of Northern Ireland civil servants are being offered lump sum payments of up to £14,000, it can be revealed.
Up to 16,000 lower-grade and mainly female civil servants across all Government departments have started receiving emails outlining their individual amounts over the last few days.
Despite the looming squeeze on public spending — expected to be detailed by new Chancellor George Osborne next week — Finance Minister Sammy Wilson is pressing ahead with the payments arising from claims over owed back salary and equal pay rates.
But the DUP minister has also warned the Assembly against opening a “Pandora’s box” to include recently retired and seconded civil servants in the back-pay issue, which is taking around £150m out of Executive coffers.
Former Finance committee chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said a growing lobby is disputing the outcome of the settlement reached after protracted months of negotations with the main Civil Service union, the Northern Ireland Public Sector Alliance (Nipsa).
“I am referring to recently retired civil servants and to civil servants who were on secondment for part of the period that the settlement covers,” the Sinn Fein MLA told the Assembly.
But Mr Wilson retorted: “Once we open Pandora’s box to include those who have retired, how far back do we go? Do we include those who have been retired for one year, 10 years or 20 years?
“The Assembly has debated how we should pay for the pay claim (and) has already seen how difficult it is to deal with the cost.”
As the Belfast Telegraph revealed last year, hundreds of civil servants had lodged individual claims with industrial tribunals which would have been triggered — potentially swamping the tribunals system — if a deal between the union and Stormont Executive had not been struck.
Mr Wilson said Nipsa was contacting members who registered tribunal claims “to consult them about the legal process involved in withdrawing those claims”.
Around 95% of balloted members backed the offer earlier this year, in a package which mean pay rates for some of the least well-off rising by nearly 30%.