Northern Ireland has lost 4,000 public sector jobs in the past year, a new report claimed.
But one union has warned that the figures may be a “gross underestimation” and said that tens of thousands more jobs could go in the next year.
Around 223,000 people currently work in the public sector in Northern Ireland — by far the biggest employer.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report, Spending Review: One Year on, claims that the scale of public sector job cuts are much deeper and have occurred much faster than had been previously believed.
Figures from the business advisory group show that Northern Ireland’s public sector workforce fell by 1.8% in the year to June 2011 — the equivalent of 4,000 jobs.
Dr Esmond Birnie, chief economist at PwC in Belfast, said that job losses, particularly in Northern Ireland, may simply have been delayed and 2012 will see severe pressures mounting on public sector spending and employment.
He said: “The challenge now for Government is not only how to do things differently, but how to do different things and mitigate the impact of further cuts in spending on services.”
Bumper Graham, of public service union Nipsa, said that there was no good news contained in the report.
“How can job losses be good for the economy?” he said.
“Reducing staff leads to reduced spend which is damaging to local enterprises.
“I would say that these figures are a gross underestimation.”
Nigel Smyth, regional director of the CBI in Northern Ireland, said: “It would be my view that these posts should not be replaced. Combined with the recruitment freeze, retirement, change of jobs, and other figures, there is significant scope here for streamlining the public sector and improving public services and productivity.”
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, Northern Ireland had 223,000 public sector employees and has more people working in the field, per head of population, than elsewhere in the UK. The sector includes civil servants, local government employees, libraries staff, Housing Executive workers and social services employees.