Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has been accused of putting senior civil servants “back in the political arena” after axing bonuses this year.
The First Division Association (FDA) which represents almost all the 220 senior officials who are losing out also said both Mr Wilson and his predecessor Nigel Dodds had refused to meet them.
Northern Ireland secretary Jim Caldwell also said a review of senior level pay and bonuses initiated by Mr Dodds after demands by a Stormont scrutiny committee had yet to get under way.
“We are not suggesting these people are poorly paid, although clearly we would argue some are underpaid in relation to similar positions in the private sector and indeed elsewhere in the public sector,” he said.
“But these are people who are an easy target for politicians and the general public. The fact is the Senior Salaries Review Body which decides these issues was set up to take the issue out of the political arena and Mr Wilson has unilaterally put it back there.
“Now the fact is we did not agree with that but it is the system that is operating at the moment and we would expect the arrangements which have been put in place to be honoured.”
Mr Caldwell said people who had met the performance-related targets that had been set may be able to take action on legal or contractual grounds.
“Clearly people are going to be disappointed to say the least, particularly by the way this was announced by a press release rather than internally first,” he went on.
Mr Wilson’s decision, announced yesterday, includes the then 13 permanent secretaries who were last year awarded bonuses totalling over £123,000 — an average of about £9,500.
The Assembly had initiated a review as it emerged performance bonuses in the Department of Education multiplied two and half times between 2003 and 2007, with around a dozen senior staff last year sharing £106,000; 11 civil servants at the Department of the Environment shared almost £87,000 and at the Department of Finance and Personnel, a total of £273,000 was paid out to 36 staff.
At the Department of Agriculture £107,000 was paid out, while 13 senior staff at the Department for Social Development shared £101,000; the Department for Regional Development paid out £90,250, and the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment a total of £69,500.
Mr Wilson’s decision also comes just days after the Belfast Telegraph revealed a number of bosses in NI Water were also in line to receive bonuses — despite incorrect bills being sent to around 8,000 customers.
Also, as an example of what has been termed the ‘bonus culture’, five senior staff at the Land and Property Service, which is responsible for rates, received bonuses last year totalling £38,500 — the highest up £6,500 to £10,500 — despite harsh criticism of its performance by local councils.
Less than a month into office, Mr Wilson said: “In light of the significant pressures on public finances and the very real difficulties facing the wider economy, I believe it would not be appropriate to include bonus payments in this year’s pay award to senior civil servants.”
Mr Wilson’s action’s should, based on last year’s overall bonus awards, save the taxpayer £1.1m.