NI Civil Service pay growth outstrips private sector

Annual statistics show officials posted 5.2% hike in median earnings in year to March
Image: gotcredit.com

By Jim Dunton

19 Nov 2021

Officials working for the Northern Ireland Civil Service saw their pay rise by 5.2% in the last financial year,  almost double the 2.7% rise in private sector pay over the same period, according to new statistics.

The annual boost in median earnings for NICS staff also outstrips an annual pay uplift pegged at 1%. Northern Ireland’s figures come as the UK civil service’s biggest union reacted to news that the Consumer Price Index had hit a near-decade high by calling for a concerted campaign against ongoing pay restraint.

According to the Northern Ireland Statistics Research Agency’s latest bulletin on NICS pay, the average annual earnings of full-time-equivalent staff in the organisation was £28,422 at the end of March this year – up from £27,020 12 months before. The March 2020 median earnings figure was a 5.8% increase on the previous year.

Separate provisional figures published last month showed median annual earnings for people who work in the private sector in Northern Ireland were £21,739 in 2021, up 2.7% on the previous year.

The NICS pay statistics said that while the pay of officials outstripped that of private sector workers, remuneration was lower than in other parts of the public sector.

NISRA said median weekly pay for full-time NICS staff was £544, compared with a Northern Ireland public-sector-wide figure of £601. The figure for full-time staff in the private sector was £464.

“Some of the differences between these sectors may be due to differences in the composition of the respective workforces,” it said.

“Many of the lowest paid occupations, such as bar and restaurant staff, hairdressers, elementary sales occupations and cashiers, exist primarily in the private sector, whereas there is a larger proportion of graduate-level and professional occupations in the public sector.”

The NICS figures also showed decreases in pay at some higher grades in the organisation. Median pay of staff at deputy principal grade decreased by 1.3% while median pay of G7 officials dropped by 1.2%.

NISRA said the year-on-year change was “likely due to promotions into these grades leading to a higher number of staff being on lower points on the pay scales for those grades”.

Ongoing staff shortages in NICS have seen swathes of temporary promotions in recent years, many of which may have become permanent and been reflected in the figures.

NISRA reported that while NICS pay was “broadly comparable” with that of counterparts working for “GB departments”, discrepancies also existed.

It said the median pay of NICS staff at senior civil service and EOI/EOII levels was lower than the median pay of their counterparts elsewhere in UK.

However, at AO grade, median pay of NICS staff was higher than their counterparts across the rest of the UK.

At DP and SO levels, median pay of NICS staff was higher than their counterparts across the rest of the UK, with the exception of Scotland.

Statistic on pay in the UK civil service give a median gross salary for officials in England of £29,540 as of 31 March this year. The figure reduces to £27,570 when London-based staff are excluded.

Inflation surge ‘shows need for action on civil service pay’

Separately, the PCS union said the latest inflation figures from the Office for National Statistics should spur a concerted drive by members to increase pay in the home civil service.

It said the ONS data showed the Consumer Prices Index increased by 4.2% in the 12 months to October, the highest 12-monthly rise since November 2011, and meant members faced a “bleak” winter amid the ongoing public-sector pay freeze.

PCS said that while chancellor Rishi Sunak used last month’s Budget to announce the end of the UKs public-sector pay freeze from April, he had not identified how much of an increase in their pay packets civil servants could expect, or committed to funding it.

“As fuel and energy prices surge and the cost-of-living crisis deepens, our members are feeling the pinch more than ever,” the union said.

“The more of us who get involved in PCS’s national campaign, the more impact we can have to right these wrongs.”

PCS said the cumulative impact of inflation was being added to by ministers’ decision not to recalculate contribution rates to the Civil Service Pension Scheme under a mechanism introduced as part of 2015’s reforms of public sector pensions.

That decision – which followed a challenge to elements of the reforms which found them to discriminate against some scheme members – is costing pension scheme members around £500 a year in overpayments, PCS said.

It is calling on members to contact their MP and ask them to lobby Cabinet Office and Treasury minister Lord Theodore Agnew, who is responsible for civil service pensions, on the issue as part of its Great Pensions Robbery campaign.

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