Belfast Telegraph

Anger of Belfast health staff after 5,000 pay packets are short

By Victoria Leonard

More than 5,000 health service workers across Northern Ireland are facing a pay shortfall this month after an increase in pension contributions was deducted as a lump sum, a union has claimed.

It emerged yesterday that a number of Belfast Trust staff had received several hundred pounds less than they expected.

One trust employee, mental health nurse and mum-of-one Clare Simpson (29), said she had received a letter to advise that money would be taken from her pay packet next week.

"They haven't told me how much they are going to take," she said.

"It's not the first time my pay has been messed up. Every month you are wondering what you will get paid. It has made me very angry - you work hard and expect to be paid correctly."

The health workers' union UNISON yesterday revealed that employees across the country have been affected by the payroll issues. It is understood the amounts deducted from wages are higher pension contributions caused by the 1% increase in public sector pay.

UNISON's Regional Organiser Joe McCusker said he had been in contact with the Business Services Organisation (BSO), which is responsible for paying health service employees, yesterday.

He said he had been told that 1,600 Belfast Trust staff who are paid monthly, and 259 who are paid weekly have been affected, along with 972 Western Trust staff, 986 South Eastern Trust staff, 986 Southern Trust staff and 721 Northern Trust staff who are paid monthly.

Some staff in these trusts who are paid fortnightly or weekly are also affected.

"The BSO are saying that it is part of their annual pension band review, which means that these staff underpaid their pension contributions between April and July," Mr McCusker explained.

"They say they are willing for staff to have a three-month repayment period which could be extended.

"They hadn't been taking the contributions out since the public sector pay increase, so they took it out in a lump sum - we don't know how many months' worth."

UNISON says it attended two meetings with health service authorities in April and June, at which the bodies pledged to ensure there was no detriment to staff.

It added that healthcare authorities had been asked that staff be given the option to catch up on pension contributions over a 12-month period, and in some cases 24 months.

In a statement, the BSO said: "We are required to recalculate employee pension contributions to reflect permanent changes in pay.

"The highest jump in contributions is 3.2% of pensionable pay, for those whose annual pay has moved over £47,845.99. "Deductions have been applied to cover pension underpayments for the period April to August 2018.

"Some members of staff have received refunds for overpayments. We would provide reimbursement to any affected staff who require support as authorised by each staff member's respective employer.

"We accept that consultation and notification on these deductions fell well short of what was required and we apologise for any inconvenience caused," the BSO added.

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