Union: This is not workers’ fault, every single claim will be pursued

Stephen Farry, former employment minister
Stephen Farry, former employment minister
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Thousands of claims for backdated holiday pay that could leave the Northern Ireland Civil Service facing a financial black hole will be pursued, a trade union has said.

However, the union has stressed that workers are entitled to the payments and the current situation is “most definitely not their fault”.

Antoinette McMillen, assistant secretary of NIPSA, said the union has been “inundated” with inquiries from public sector workers about possible claims for unpaid holiday pay.

This followed a Court of Appeal ruling earlier this week on a class action brought by a group representing 3,700 PSNI officers and civilian staff.

The court upheld an earlier ruling that unlawful deductions from their holiday pay entitlements dating back 20 years are in breach of fundamental legal rights, meaning the PSNI could be left facing a settlement bill amounting to £40 million.

There are 208,000 public sector workers in NI, and political parties have now raised concerns that wider government departments, and private employers, could face a massive claim totalling hundreds of millions of pounds.

A law enacted in Great Britain prevents backdated pay claims older than two years, but it was never extended to Northern Ireland.

The Alliance Party has confirmed that Stephen Farry MLA discussed the issue with his civil servants when he was employment minister at Stormont.

The News Letter asked Mr Farry why he did not extend the law to NI when he was employment minister, but he failed to address the question.

However, he acknowledged he was aware of a ruling in 2014 in which GB workers won a landmark case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal to include regular overtime in holiday pay.

Confirming that he had “a number of discussions with civil servants regarding the potential implications for Northern Ireland”, he said: “It is important to fully consider this week’s ruling by the Court of Appeal, and to note that the PSNI may decide to appeal further. Care also needs to be taken in speculating on what may be the wider impact in Northern Ireland.

“I have engaged with the head of the Civil Service, and the Departments of Finance and Economy on this ruling. I understand that the Civil Service will be assessing all aspects of this situation, including what becomes the final legal position, respect for the entitlements of workers, and how to achieve budgetary cover.”

Ms McMillen said around 7,000 claims have already been lodged with the Tribunals Office. “There will be more coming in, because we have been inundated and I would assume other unions are the same and private sector unions will be similar.

“We have had everybody on the phone to us – civil servants, retired civil servants, people from education, local government.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Finance 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.”