Belfast Telegraph

Northern Irish workers: huge wage divide compared to UK peers doing same job

Figures reveal huge wage divide in labour market

By Claire McNeilly

Employees in Northern Ireland are among the lowest paid in the UK – with some earning more than 80% less for doing exactly the same job as their peers elsewhere.

Shocking new figures have, for the first time, laid bare the true picture of our poorly-remunerated labour force in terms of occupation.

They reveal the 2013 annual gross salary for full-time workers here was £27,697 – almost £6,000 below the UK average of £33,288.

The data – provided by the NI Centre for Economic Policy (NICEP) at the Belfast Telegraph's request – also lifts the lid on the staggering pay discrepancies across specific industries.

It shows that, despite the rising cost of living, wages in Northern Ireland fell by 6.9% in real terms between 2007 and 2013.

Jordan Buchanan, an economist at NICEP, which is based in the Ulster Business School, said the massive salary discrepancies represented an economic burden for Northern Ireland.

"Although average salaries in Northern Ireland have been consistently lower than the UK average, the only long-term solution is to raise our skills levels and continue to attract high value-added companies to these shores," he said.

In 2007, the full-time mean annual gross pay for workers in Northern Ireland was £29,759 but that sum slumped by £2,062 over seven years to £27,697 in 2013.

Average local salaries hit a peak five years ago in 2009 to reach £30,148, while the UK mean rose to £36,301 in the same year.

NICEP's statistics offer a comprehensive analysis of the local labour market via wage data for specific industries, as well as giving us comparative figures for the rest of the UK.

Alarmingly, it seems that in certain sectors, workers here are paid over four times less for doing an identical job elsewhere in the UK.

Finance and insurance jobs represent the biggest regional pay discrepancy, as Northern Ireland's 19,000 employees earn £29,760 – compared to the £54,578 average paid to their UK peers.

Those in the professional, scientific and technical sector in the UK also take home 60% more than their Northern Irish equivalents, who get £22,900 compared to £36,697.

Information and communication roles are also paid 41% less in Northern Ireland, where average salaries are £28,724 compared to the UK average of £40,369.

Only people in Wales, where the average annual gross pay per full-time employee is £27,567, take home less than their Northern Ireland counterparts.

The highest-paid region is London, where average earnings sit just under £50,000, followed by the South East at £34,261.

Further data analysis shows that in total workforce terms, our biggest sector is wholesale and retail trade, with 135,000 employees earning, on average, £16,572.

That compares with a mean UK salary of £20,668. The second biggest employment sector here is health and social work, boasting 132,000 workers.

They earn £21,863 annually, which is 7% less than the UK average of £23,325.

The good news is that Northern Ireland is in a relatively strong position compared to other regions of the UK, despite a fall in real wages, because the 6.9% reduction in salary here has fallen by less than many other regions – for example London employees have witnessed a 11.1% drop in pay between 2007 and 2013.

There were 829,000 people in some form of employment (including the self-employed) in Northern Ireland in 2013, according to NICEP. Of that total, 264,000 (31.8%) were in the public sector earning a mean salary of £27,053, while 565,000 (68.2%) private sector workers were paid on average £20,034 – or more than £7,000 less. That compares with UK figures of 8,568,000 (26.2%) public sector employees earning £27,056 and 24,147,000 private sector workers on £27,703 – with the latter being paid £647 more.

The news comes after it recently emerged that dole queues here have shrunk for the 15th month in a row, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

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