Civil servants in Northern Ireland could be the latest to strike after many were offered pay rises of less than 2%.
Most Northern Ireland Civil Service staff will get a pay rise of £552 this year, in an offer set out by the Department of Finance on 6 January.
The fixed sum is being offered to all but the lowest-paid NICS officials, whose pay is being increased to the Living Wage Foundation rate of £10.90 an hour or £21,053 a year.
The 2022 pay offer is only being made now because Stormont had neither a budget or a public sector pay policy due to the lack of a functioning executive.
The DoF admitted the offer – which has been delayed because the lack of a functioning executive – would be “below what staff and unions will expect in a very challenging year for the cost of living”.
However, it was constrained by guidance published in December that said pay awards “must be affordable in the context of each department’s budget settlement for this year”. The budget was put in place by Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris after several failed attempts to restore power-sharing at Stormont amid a standoff over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
In an internal memo, DoF permanent secretary Neil Gibson said it was a “matter of deep personal regret that the pay offer is at the level it is”.
“I wish the pay offer could have gone much further, however, we are constrained by the very difficult budgetary position,” he said.
But the NIPSA trade union told its members the offer was “without doubt the most offensive and derisory offer that you will ever have received” and would mean a real-terms pay cut for every civil servant.
The consolidated £552 award equates a less-than-2% pay rise for any civil servants earning more than £27,600. For those earning £21,052 – just above the living wage – it represents a 2.6% increase.
Inflation was 10.7% in November, the latest figures show.
NIPSA has recommended its members reject the offer, which it said is “significantly lower pay offer than those made to other public servants” and suggests civil servants are “less valued by the government than other workers”.
It also recommended a ballot for industrial action, which “is likely to take the form of strike action and action short of strike action”.
“As previously highlighted, if we wish to force the hand of the government, which is coming under pressure from other trade unions, then civil servants now need to join the action by those workers,” the union said – referring to strikes being held by unions in the UK civil service and across other public services.
“If we want a fair pay rise, we will have to be in the fight.”
Announcing the pay offer last week, a DoF spokesperson said: “The department shares the frustration of all our colleagues in the delays in implementing a pay award for 2022. The department recognises and regrets the pay offer is below what staff and unions will expect in a very challenging year for the cost of living.
“Unfortunately, the budget position does not provide any additional scope to offer a higher pay award. The department hopes this pay award can be agreed as a matter of urgency to ensure colleagues see their pay increase as soon as possible.”
Union branches have until 19 January to vote on whether to accept the pay offer and hold a strike ballot.