Northern Ireland’s chief constable would be “unjustly enriched” by the denial of all holiday pay due to his officers, the Court of Appeal has heard.
Counsel for a group of policemen and women claimed they have yet to receive any of the sums assured to them.
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton is challenging a finding that officers and civilian workers are owed up to £30 million over a period dating back two decades.
In November last year an industrial tribunal held their holiday pay had been wrongly based on basic working hours, rather than actual hours worked including overtime.
The decision came in a case taken by a group representing more than 3,700 officers and support staff.
They launched proceedings following a landmark ruling on UK holiday pay rules in 2014.
In that case judges decided employees who were regularly required to work overtime should get extra holiday pay.
According to the Industrial Tribunal the failure to provide the correct annual leave entitlements was “extremely serious”.
It raised the prospect of the PSNI and the Police Authority facing an estimated bill of £30m in relation to unlawful deductions which could stretch back 20 years.
But the extent of liability remains in dispute.
It has been suggested that the officers can only claim for a period of three months prior to proceedings being commenced.
Their lawyers insisted, however, they are entitled to payments from 1998, when the Working Time Regulations were introduced in the UK.
David McMillen QC told the court his clients were simply seeking to be paid what is owed to them.
“It’s an issue that strikes at the very heart of the relationship between any worker and the employer.” he said.
“If the chief constable is able to retain these monies that amounts to unjust enrichment.”
Earlier in the hearing it emerged that the dispute could mean the PSNI paying staff nearly £3 million more for last year alone.
Counsel for the chief constable stressed it was his client’s “earnest intention” to comply with the law and pay for that period.
But Mr McMillen said: “Despite assurances it will be backdated to April 2018, the officers are still to receive a penny in terms of funds.”
Citing the 2014 judgment, he also contended: “The chief constable has, in effect, permitted this position to occur initially, and he has failed to grasp the nettle and address the issue when it became clear.”
The appeal continues.