Belfast Telegraph

NIO's £15m bill to settle staff wage rise dispute

By Noel McAdam

Around 2,500 Northern Ireland police and civil servants left out of a massive "equal pay" settlement are set to receive payments of around £6,000 each, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The former Northern Ireland Office and policing staff would be entitled to the payout which follows years of wrangling and a major court case.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton is recommending that they should receive £6,000 each which could cost hard-pressed Stormont coffers around £15m.

In a document sent to ministers, the DUP finance chief is understood to have accepted there was a high "moral argument" to make the payment.

He has also met Justice Minister David Ford to discuss a solution which one MLA said last night would be "welcomed by many".

Ministers are being asked to accept that had the staff fallen within the pay determination powers of the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), they would have been included in the original equal pay deal.

Their argument, backed up by trade unions, has been that they should not be treated differently because they had served or been seconded to areas outside of DFP pay determination control.

The Belfast Telegraph understands the breakdown of staff involved is around 1,700 in the PSNI and former Police Authority and about 770 in the Northern Ireland Office.

It is thought a final decision could be taken by the Executive at its next meeting on May 29.

Mr Hamilton's move follows a call from the Assembly to the Alliance leader Mr Ford to address the concerns of PSNI and NIO staff.

Two Stormont committees, Finance and Personnel and Justice, have also made demands that action should be taken to address the excluded group.

Mr Hamilton said he sensed there was a willingness among all parties in the Assembly to find a solution to the "anomaly" which emerged after a long-running "equal pay" dispute in the NI civil service running back almost five years to 2009.

The main case involved around 15,900 low-paid, mostly female civil servants in a row which stretched back to the last period of direct rule when Peter Hain was Secretary of State.

Settlement of it in the end cost the Stormont Executive around £130m in back pay along with pay rises believed to total a further £20m.

Under previous Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, DFP had disputed the right to the equal pay settlement for those who had left the civil service for more than six months – but that has now been changed by case law.

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