June 19 2019 10:17 AM
Civil servants in Northern Ireland could be owed hundreds of millions in backdated holiday pay, it has emerged.
Stormont’s Department of Finance has said it is in “early discussions” with trade unions on the issue, BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show revealed.
Belfast City Council has already reached an agreement with workers being offered payments dating back “several years”. It said staff were still considering the matter.
The news comes following a landmark court ruling early this week that has left the PSNI facing a £40m bill over officers’ holiday pay.
On Monday, the Court of Appeal dismissed Chief Constable George Hamilton’s bid to overturn a finding that his staff and civilian workers should be paid sums dating back two decades.
He was challenging an industrial tribunal decision that their holiday pay had been wrongly based on basic working hours, rather than actual hours worked including overtime.
The ruling has left scores of other civil servants questioning whether they too are owed money. The move could also impact those in the private sector.
A Department of Finance spokesperson said: “The department is in early discussions with the unions about backdated holiday pay. These discussions are at an early stage and it is premature to comment or seek to put a cost to this.”
DUP MLA Jim Wells said the “nightmare scenario” could be that departments do not have records stretching back the required amount of time and the problem could “drag on and on” over a number of years.
He said: “It is an absolute hornet’s nest, but we live in a democratic society where workers have the entitlement to go to tribunals or indeed the courts. And if the courts say it has to be done, it has to be done.”
A Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said it is “actively considering” the issue of overtime and holiday pay for its employees.
NIFRS has a workforce of more than 2,200 employees. In comparison, the case against the PSNI involved 3,380 police officers and 364 civilian workers.
A Translink spokesperson said: “Translink is currently reviewing the ruling in the recent PSNI case on holiday pay and will engage with the unions as required.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he has a requested an urgent meeting with civil service chief David Sterling to discuss the issue.
“The Court of Appeal ruling is significant for public sector workers, and indeed those in the private sector, and for future budgets,” he said.
“Given the immense scale of claims likely to now come forward and the breadth of public bodies affected, I have requested an urgent meeting with the head of the civil service to discuss what action has been taken in anticipation of such a ruling, current engagement with Trade Unions and the projected impact on future budgets.
“This matter must be dealt with in a way that meets the needs of public sector workers, respects the ruling of the court and protects budgetary integrity so that public services are not impacted.”
Sinn Fein Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill said: “Clearly this case has potential implications right across the public sector and it is important that workers receive the correct pay to which they are entitled.
“In relation to the possible and significant budgetary impact on the wider public sector, it’s crucial we are fully aware as soon as possible of the current legal position and the potential future implications.
“I have written to the Head of the Civil Service on that basis.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital
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