Belfast Telegraph

Fury in ranks of PSNI over plan to slash overtime in bid to cut costs

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

Chief Constable Simon Byrne is facing a rebellion over plans to make officers work on their days off as part of a cost-cutting drive.

Mr Byrne is clamping down on overtime across the force from the beginning of next month.

Under the plans officers will be required to work on their rest days with the promise of a day off in lieu some weeks later.

The PSNI said it was part of moves to apply overtime regulations equally across the organisation.

However, with the PSNI short of almost 800 officers to provide an effective service, there are concerns over how the new system will operate.

It comes just weeks before Brexit, as more officers are being tasked to work in border areas amid concerns over a surge in dissident republican activity.

Mr Byrne's predecessor George Hamilton repeatedly warned that he did not have the necessary resources to deal with potential disorder in a no-deal scenario. It has also been claimed there are not enough officers to enforce even a soft border after the UK leaves the EU at the end of October.

The implementation of the overtime clampdown has angered officers.

It comes after Mr Byrne said the PSNI will appeal a ruling by the Court of Appeal, which upheld a judgment that staff are owed money for a shortfall in holiday pay dating back 20 years.

PSNI employees in Northern Ireland have also not yet received a pay rise dating back to 2017/18 that has already been handed to their counterparts in the rest of the UK.

The most recently available figures, covering the 12 months to 2017, show £45.5m was spent on overtime - equivalent to £124,730 a day.

Earlier this year a meeting of the Policing Board was told some officers were claiming up to £55,000 for working additional hours.

Responding to the bid to radically cut the PSNI's overtime bill, one officer said: "It's absolute madness and it's all anyone is talking about.

"A lot of people rely on their overtime to pay their bills and they're genuinely worried about how this is going to impact on them. I know the bosses would say staff shouldn't rely on overtime, but the fact is they do and there are a lot of very worried people out there.

"It has really got backs up; Northern Ireland isn't like England, we have serious security issues here and policing here is very different to policing in the rest of the UK."

The officer pointed to trouble which flared at the site of an anti-internment bonfire in North Belfast last week, when officers came under attack.

They added: "Just look at what happened in New Lodge last week, look at the marching season, all it takes is for someone to say the wrong thing and the whole place implodes.

"I've no idea how the bosses think we can provide an adequate service over things like the Twelfth without overtime.

"If they bring me in on my day off to work a shift because they don't have enough staff, how are they magically going to have enough staff to let me have my day in lieu a few weeks later?

"There are some units where officers are having their leave cancelled at the last minute, they're actually having to cancel holidays abroad, because the police are so short-staffed, so it's hard to see how this is going to work."

He continued: "There are also welfare issues with these new rules.

"It's hard enough for officers to work shifts around their families.

"There's a lot of planning goes into childcare and now they're changing around our days off with a few weeks' notice.

"I understand the Chief Constable wants to save money, but this is leaving a really bad taste in people's mouths."

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said: "Overtime is inevitable in an organisation that faces unpredictable and critical demand. The use of overtime is governed by regulations.

"As part of ensuring we apply the regulations consistently, information was issued to management teams recently asking that they ensure that regulations are applied equally across the organisation.

"Police regulations state where an officer receives 15 or more days' notice of the requirement to work a rostered rest day, that officer will be allocated another rest day within four days of the notification of the requirement to work.

"Overtime is paid to all officers who have a rostered rest day cancelled with less than 15 days' notice. It is also paid to officers who work additional hours to their rostered shift.

"Overtime will never be a default option to meet a resourcing demand and we recognise the additional burden it puts on our workforce.

"The public have a right to expect that the Police Service of Northern Ireland pays overtime according to the regulations and managers have been asked to ensure this happens.

"We are conscious of the impact working additional hours has on our staff and take actions to mitigate this."

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