Tribunal rules PSNI owes £30m in outstanding holiday pay
The PSNI faces a massive bill after a landmark industrial tribunal decreed that it owes its staff £30m in outstanding holiday pay.
A class action brought by officers and civilian staff resulted in a ruling that unlawful deductions made from their holiday pay entitlements were in breach of fundamental human rights.
It is understood that the 3,700 individual claimants may now expect refunds amounting to several thousand pounds each.
Police Federation chair Mark Lindsay last night said the ruling “will give officers what they are entitled to” and he called on the government to make the restitution payments instead of the PSNI, to avoid any adverse impact on the policing budget.
The case against the PSNI and Police Authority for Northern Ireland was brought by a group of 14 lead claimants representing police constables and sergeants, as well as civilian support workers, such as forensic staff and crime scene surveyors.
Delivering the industrial tribunal’s decision, employment judge Noel Kelly said overtime is often a requirement of the role when it comes to Close Protection or Tactical Support officers, for example, or normal policing duties.
“Overtime can be required when a shift has to be continued beyond the original rostered finishing time — for example to complete a road traffic accident investigation,” he said. “It can also be required in particular geographical areas to deal with local problems such as a local paramilitary feud. It varies at different times of the year and in response to different political climates.”
Lead solicitor on the case, John McShane, of McCartan Turkington Breen (MTB), represented nine of the 11 police officers, for whom the Chief Constable George Hamilton is answerable, and two civilian staff claimants, for whom the Police Authority is answerable.
He said: “The Chief Constable’s failure — and continued failure to date — to pay staff in accordance with the legal requirements resulted in the need for police and civilian staff to incur the cost of pursuing legal proceedings to seek redress for their lawful entitlement to be properly paid whilst on annual leave.”
Mr McShane explained that PSNI holiday pay had been based on working basic contracted hours and hadn’t accounted for any additional hours required.
A high profile case in Great Britain four years ago, however, had determined that pay whilst on annual leave should include an average of overtime and other allowances.
“Cases were pursued here because the PSNI had not sought to comply with these legal obligations,” he said. “The cases also addressed to what extent arrears of these unlawful deductions of wages, backdated to 1998, could be claimed.
“In England and Wales, legislation was introduced to limit any arrears claim to two years. No such equivalent legislation was passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly.”
Mr McShane pointed to Judge Kelly’s ruling that “a failure to provide the right to paid (ie properly and fully paid) annual leave... is an extremely serious matter going to the heart of one of the fundamental rights of the European Union.”
The employment judge added: “An employer is not allowed to sidestep or to avoid the rights guaranteed under a European community directive. In the present claims, the position has been clear to all parties since 2014.
“Overtime payments and allowances should have been included, on some basis within the calculation of holiday pay.
“The present claims appear to highlight a situation where a clear entitlement under the Working Time Directive has
been effectively ignored and avoided for a significant period of time and continues to be avoided. It is particularly concerning that this has been done by a public authority.”
Mark Lindsay, chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, praised the ruling saying it “corrects a long-running disadvantage and delivers significant back payments to officers”.
“The Police Federation represented 2,700 officers at no cost to themselves,” he said.
“A further 800 were engaged in a private action which they had to fund. The cost to the PFNI was over £500,000.
“Legal counsel was shared with the other officers who pursued the private action.”
Mr Lindsay said the ruling “will give officers what they are entitled to” and he called on government “to step in to meet the claim rather than allow it to become a burden on the existing financial allocation”.
“The federation is aware of the financial implications of the ruling,” he added.
“Paying what officers are due should not be allowed to adversely impact on the PSNI budget which is already under strain.”
Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin said: “We are considering the findings of this legal judgment which is complex and significant. We continue to be involved in the legal process and as such it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”