Belfast Telegraph

Decision not to cap backdated holiday pay for NI civil servants could cost 'hundreds of millions'

Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry
Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry

Questions have been raised of Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry as to why he did not put a cap on backdated holiday pay for civil servants when he was a Stormont minister.

Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled that police holiday pay dating back 20 years should have taken overtime into account and now the PSNI is facing a £40million claims bill from staff.

In the wake of the ruling, it emerged that the Department of Finance, which sets pay policy for all public sector bodies, is considering how the ruling would affect other workers - potentially costing hundreds of millions.

The same issue was facing the UK Government back in 2014 following a court ruling similar to that made in Belfast last week. It led to the introduction of a two-year cap on backdated claims in order to stem potentially huge bills to employers.

Stephen Farry was the Minister for Employment and Learning at the time and responsible for salary policy decisions for government departments, however he did not put a two-year cap on claims in Northern Ireland, the BBC's Nolan Show reports.

DUP MLA Jim Wells said: "Stephen needs to come clean and he needs to say what he knew, what happened and what he did, if anything.

"What was his reasoning if he didn't put a cap on this? Why did he leave office leaving Northern Ireland open to this unlimited liability. Stephen was obviously aware of this at the time.

"What was his thought process at the time? Why did he think it wasn't appropriate to follow GB legislation and put a two-year cap on it?"

In response, Stephen Farry said: "I was aware of the Bear Scotland ruling (which found overtime should be calculated into holiday pay) when I was Minister for Employment & Learning and had a number of discussions with civil servants regarding the potential implications for Northern Ireland.

"It is important to fully consider this week’s ruling by the Court of Appeal, and to note that the PSNI may decide to appeal further. Care also needs to be taken in speculating on what may be the wider impact in Northern Ireland.

"I have engaged with the Head of the Civil Service, and the Departments of Finance and Economy on this ruling. I understand that the Civil Service will be assessing all aspects of this situation, including what becomes the final legal position, respect for the entitlements of workers, and how to achieve budgetary cover. It is important to allow that process to run its course."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said other Stormont departments should have been made aware of the potential implications to the Northern Ireland budget.

"If we do get an Executive and Assembly restored that sort of silo mentality has to be broken down," he said.

"Because this is supposed to be about delivery for the people of Northern Ireland, not guarding your own back door to make sure the problems don't get aired or you don't look bad."

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