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Northern Ireland unions could fight exit payouts cap in courts

Published 12/11/2015

Sinn Fein's Daithi McKay said he had concerns about the redundancy cap
Sinn Fein's Daithi McKay said he had concerns about the redundancy cap

Unions in Northern Ireland could take legal action over a proposed cap on public sector exit payments.

Bumper Graham, Nipsa's assistant general secretary, told MLAs if redundancy payouts were limited to £95,000, cases may be brought before tribunals or civil courts.

A joint action involving several unions may also be considered for judicial review, it was claimed.

Mr Graham said: "I can see three potential areas for legal challenge.

"It could be challenged in tribunals potentially as an unlawful deduction of earnings because people have a contractual right to that payment and likewise could be challenged in tribunals on the basis of unfair application of waivers.

"It may be challenged in the courts as a straightforward breach of contract or indeed breach of legislative entitlement because a number of cases are legislatively covered.

"There is also, I suspect, the potential of judicial review because of the indecent haste, lack of consultation and lack of proper scrutiny as to the application and implementation."

Mr Graham and officials from healthcare worker union Unison, the FDA which represents senior civil servants and teaching union NASUWT were giving evidence to Stormont's finance committee.

MLAs were discussing a motion which would give Westminster the power to end six figure payments for public sector workers from next April.

Mr Graham claimed some higher earners leaving the civil service as part of a £700 million voluntary exit scheme agreed during Stormont House negotiations, could lose out.

Meanwhile, he was also critical of how the controversial scheme, which began in September, was being rolled out.

"Our problem is there is a fragmented approach across different sectors," said Mr Graham.

"Nobody sat down and said 'how many people in this geographical area can we afford to let go?

"How many people in these grades can we afford to let go? How many people in these specialisms or disciplines can we afford to let go'

"It was 'oh great, we have got the pot of gold and it is fool's gold - it has to be paid back - open the doors and let them out. Crazy management."

Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay, who chairs the scrutiny committee, said he had concerns about the proposed legislation.

"I certainly think there is a lot of detail that we need to flesh out and we don't have a lot of time to do it so, it is of great concern."

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