Belfast Telegraph

Police union facing split over pensions as 300 PSNI officers vow to quit

By Deborah McAleese

Almost 300 PSNI officers intend to break away from their union and launch their own legal battle against proposed pension reforms as a bitter row between the two groups intensifies.

The group of officers have dismissed public reassurances from Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI), that he will "fight tooth and nail" against changes to their pensions.

They claim that federation officials continually ignore their concerns – allegations that the federation strongly denies.

Proposed pension reforms due to be implemented early next year will mean that many officers will have to work longer and for less for their retirement packages.

It is understood that over the past week around 270 officers – of constable, sergeant and inspector rank – have issued individual votes of no confidence in the federation's central committee and its top officials.

Mr Spence said he was in "no doubt about the frustrations" over the pensions issue but stressed that the federation "have no powers of negotiation and the Government can impose its will".

"We will fight tooth and nail to get the best possible outcome for our members, recognising that the position for officers here in Northern Ireland is special and different," he told Police Oracle.

Mr Spence said that further talks on pensions have been scheduled for the coming weeks and that the federation "will strongly put our position".

However, the angry group of policemen and women said that PSNI officers who joined from 1992 onward contacted their federation for "support" and "transparent leadership and direction" but claimed they were "ignored".

They said that legislation used successfully by the Fire Brigades Union to challenge retirement reform and by the Retired RUC Widows could be used in their case. The federation has insisted, however, that no powers of negotiation are available.

In a statement the group of officers said: "We at present have no confidence in our officials and are calling for an extraordinary general meeting to demand what action the PFNI have actually done on our behalf.

"They have even refused to let us examine legal documents from 'the best lawyers' stating that it was not theirs to give, and then that we are not legally allowed to see it.

"If the PFNI has no weight in talks with our elected members of Government over staff wages (new officer starting salaries of £19,000 have been introduced) then we are very doubtful if they can sway them on pensions. With that we are lobbying politicians, consulting legal and financial experts and engaging with our officers to ensure we get the advice available."

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland was contacted by the Belfast Telegraph but chose not to respond to the group's statement.

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Under proposed pension reforms the normal pension age for police officers will increase to 60. However, officers will be able to start to draw their pension, with a reduction, if they retire at 55. The reduction will likely be between 4% and 5% for each year that the pension is taken early. Officers retiring before April next year and those who are within 10 years of retirement as of April 2012 will not be affected by the changes. PSNI officers angry about the changes have accused the Police Federation of not doing enough to challenge the reform.

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