Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Union slams 40% pay hike for councillors as staff face fresh freeze

Councillors' pay is going up (picture posed)
Councillors' pay is going up (picture posed)

The biggest local government union has attacked a 40% salary increase for members of Northern Ireland's 11 new councils.

After the elections in May, councillors are set for a £4,000-plus pay rise – up from the current £9,835 to around £14,200.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan approved the increase following a review by an independent panel which praised the "high degree of selflessness and huge commitment" of councillors who it said are mostly available to constituents 24 hours a day.

"Few, if any, appear to be motivated to do this work for financial reasons," the report of the panel concluded.

But the NI Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) said council workers were very angry over the increase because they had not yet been made a pay offer.

The union, which represents more than half of town hall staff, accused councillors of "hypocrisy" and argued the increases should be replicated for employees.

Assistant secretary Bumper Graham said it was "bizarre" that the pay hike was announced as the Chancellor's Budget contained four more years of zero or 1% increases in public sector pay.

"It is hypocritical of councillors, MPs and MLAs to be putting through measures that will further cut public sector terms and conditions, such as the recent pension changes, and yet give themselves or accept increases of between 40% to 50%," he added.

"Council workers are very angry because this comes only a week or so before the date of their annual pay increase and yet employers have yet to even make an offer."

Mr Graham said NIPSA accepted there should be a proper rate of allowances for councillors but in terms of salary levels, local government was the "Cinderella" of the public sector.

"Salary levels are way behind and we have members who are on salaries close to the minimum wage, so it is a bit bizarre that this comes on the day of the Budget.

"We have seen MPs and MLAs and now councillors getting handsome increases. It would seem there are different rules for different people and it is very much not the case that we are all in this together," the NIPSA official added.

"We have come through a period when there have been pay freezes for council workers or increases of just 1%, and yet if it is being argued the increases for councillors are to reflect the increased responsibilities they will have under the reform of public administration, we hope that will be replicated for local government workers.

"Many staff are wondering what the impact of the council mergers is going to be and whether they will have jobs at all," he said.

Mr Durkan argued, however: "Under local government reform, councillors will face significant changes.

"To fairly compensate councillors for their increased roles and responsibilities, and the larger electorates they will represent, a councillors' basic allowance will be set at £14,200 per annum."

A statement from his department added: "A total basic allowance of £14,200 will be paid to councillors from 2015/16 onwards.

"The basic allowance will be the same for all councillors and is paid in recognition of a councillor's representational role and the increased responsibilities that the new councils will have."

Meanwhile, former Green Party MLA and councillor Brian Wilson insisted there was no justification for any increase. He said a comparison with councils in other regions suggests that councillors here are "significantly overpaid".

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