NI ministers pledge 'fair and just' pay rise for public servants

Finance minister says negotiations should begin “as soon as possible” amid call for more funds from Westminster government
Finance minister Caoimhe Archibald. Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

Ministers in Northern Ireland will be seeking more funding from the Treasury for public sector pay rises and have pledged to make a “fair and just” public sector pay settlement a priority.

Negotiations over pay settlements are expected to open soon, now that the Northern Ireland assembly has been recalled for the first time in nearly two years.

Newly appointed finance minister Caoimhe Archibald said yesterday she wanted pay negotiations to begin “as soon as possible” and that she will be seeking longer-term funding for wage rises.

A £3.3bn financial package was part of the recent agreement to restore Stormont’s executive and included £584m for public-sector pay rises.

Most Northern Ireland Civil Service staff were awarded a flat-rate pay adjustment of just £552 last April, equivalent to an increase of less than 1% for most civil servants, according to the NIPSA trade union.

Last month, NICS head Jayne Brady said an estimated £634m is needed to maintain "broad parity" between Northern Ireland civil servants and those in England, Scotland and Wales.

Speaking after a meeting with civil service unions yesterday, Archibald, who is minister with responsibility for the civil service, said the figure “only provides funding for one year and falls short of what is required”.

“Given the cost-of-living crisis and household budgets being stretched, it is vital public sector workers do not have to continue to wait for their pay award,” she said.

“I will continue to press Treasury for clarity on the specifics of the package offered and a longer-term solution to public sector funding that is not at the expense of the stabilisation of public services and finances.”

She said that at the meeting with NIPSA, FDA, Unite and GMB – which together represent 24,000 civil servants – she had “reinforced my determination to see pay negotiations commence as soon as possible”.

The meeting came after first minister Michelle O’Neill said earlier this week that she wanted to send a “very clear sign" that the assembly has "a shared determination to secure a fair and just outcome for all our people".

O’Neill said the executive would be taking a united case for funding for public services and staff to Westminster.

“The assembly is a broad church, with a broad range of views on many issues. There are matters that are so fundamental, so profound, that they bring together all shades of political opinion. This is one such issue," she said.

She said ministers would be "asking for funding that is taken for granted in Scotland and Wales but denied to people here" and "will make our case to the Westminster government with determination and commitment".

In a statement issued alongside O’Neill's comments, deputy first minister Emma Little-Pengelly, welcomed support for the move from across the assembly to "take the case for a fair and just financial settlement to London".

“We are not asking for a blank cheque, but a recognition that transformation requires investment, and that a change in delivery requires the necessary resources," she added.

“We need the right long term fiscal guarantees and tools to ensure we can adequately fund public services and implement necessary transformation.”

'Industrial action will continue'

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has warned that it “stands united and firm in our collective industrial action” until disputes are settled.

After a meeting with Archibald this week – which took place ahead of the newly formed executive’s first meeting – ICTU assistant general secretary Gerry Murphy said Archibald had “made clear to us that public sector pay was an immediate priority for her and her department”.

“We welcome the minister’s commitment to settle these disputes as quickly and comprehensively as possible,” he said.

Unions have been staging strikes over the last few weeks in a bid to secure meaningful pay rises for public sector staff.

“That action has successfully brought us to the point where we can resolve these issues. However, we are also clear that that industrial action will continue until we receive proposals from relevant departments and agencies that workers can accept,” Murphy said.

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