Northern Ireland civil servants earn 18% more than British counterparts
Public sector pay for administrative jobs in Northern Ireland is dwarfing that for the same posts in most other UK government departments.
Latest data shows an administrative assistant in the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) can earn as much as 18% more than someone doing the same job in the Department of Work and Pensions.
The news comes after it emerged the NICS received 15,000 applications for 400 administrative posts and has highlighted the task ahead for new Finance Minister Simon Hamilton.
He has pledged to reform the public sector by improving its efficiency so it can win internal business from other government departments across the UK.
But the burden of hefty salary costs at lower pay scales in the NICS will make that job difficult and impede plans to use a more efficient and productive public sector to help boost the private sector.
According to data from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency for 2012, an administrative assistant, or AA, can earn up to £17,533 a year in the NICS, compared to £14,744 in the Home Office. A DFP spokesperson said the differential was the result of a pay settlement.
Aside from when a London weighting is added, only in Scotland is the upper limit for the post higher at £17,632, a statistic which will raise questions as to the payment strategies of the two devolved governments.
Business organisations have been railing against the fact the average Northern Ireland public sector worker is paid 44% more than in the private sector, according to the most recent data.
And news that pay levels here outstrip other UK government departments has not been welcome.
Linda Brown, divisional director of IoD Northern Ireland, said the disparity does little for the sector's efficiency.
"I cannot see any justification for the same pay grades in Northern Ireland being 18% above rates elsewhere in the UK," she said.
"The minister must recognise that the public sector has a role to play in growing our economy, and competing for employees on the basis of pay is not going to help improve the competitiveness or productivity of our private and social enterprise sectors."
Nipsa's Bumper Graham said: "Over the years the NICS has been able to attract jobs in relation to civil service work. That's because of the quality of the work carried out by our members... when it comes to quality and the lack of staff turnover, we're delivering."