Belfast Telegraph

Civil servants introduce health worker pay rise delayed by powersharing crisis

Civil servants are to introduce a pay rise for health service workers in Northern Ireland that was left unimplemented due to the Stormont powersharing crisis.

The ongoing lack of elected ministers meant the public sector pay policy for the current financial year had not been set.

It left 55,000 health and social care workers waiting on a 1% rise recommended by the independent NHS pay review body.

The implementation of the pay policy was one of multiple policy decisions left untaken due to the absence of a coalition executive at Stormont.

Senior civil servants, who have been in charge of running the region's rudderless public services since the implosion of powersharing, have now taken the step of implementing the policy.

It will mean the Department of Health can introduce the 1% increase - a move that will cost £26 million.

Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, said: "Our workers are our most valuable asset and they deserve to receive the hard-earned pay which is owed to them.

"I fully understand the frustrations and uncertainty about pay caused by the absence, until today, of a pay policy."

The pay award, which will be backdated, is expected to be implemented before the end of the financial year.

The Department of Finance set the pay policy.

Its permanent secretary, Hugh Widdis, explained that the 2017/18 policy would replicate the one approved in 2016/17 by the then finance minister Simon Hamilton.

"This, in keeping with the overarching HM Treasury policy on UK public sector pay this year, will limit pay increases to 1%," he said.

"Setting Pay Policy would normally be the responsibility of the Finance Minister.

"However, I am very much aware of the pressures on hard-working public sector staff and the potential impact on recruitment, retention and morale caused by the current unprecedented situation.

"Therefore, having considered all of these factors, I believe this is the most appropriate way to resolve this pressing situation and is in the public interest."

Trade union Unite welcomed the move but highlighted that inflation meant health care workers were still facing a standard of living cut this year.

Kevin McAdam, Unite industrial officer, said: " We have sought long and hard to remove the log-jam that left healthcare workers bewildered as they heard £26 million had been allocated to cover the costs of a 1% pay increase but that this could not be released in the absence of an Executive Minister.

"The pay increase, meagre as it is, will be backdated to April 1 of this year and will be worth approximately £300 to workers.

"It is sure to be welcome to healthcare workers coming as it is in the month of Christmas. But the delay in providing the pay increase was completely unnecessary and appears to be politically-inspired.

"Indeed while this announcement is welcome, it is completely inadequate. Healthcare workers are still seeing their pay decrease year-on-year, losing 15% in pay in real terms since the banking crisis ten years ago."

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