Alliance’s Stephen Farry silent on NI backdated pay fears

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Alliance MLA and former Employment Minister Stephen Farry has declined to say why he failed to extend a law to Northern Ireland which could potentially have prevented a massive backdated pay bill for public and private sector workers.

The Court of Appeal ruled this week that PSNI officers were owed money due to a shortfall in holiday pay going back 20 years.

It is estimated that the individual payments could average £10,000, and total £40m.

There are some 208,000 public sector workers in NI and political parties have now raised concerns that wider government departments - and private employers across NI - could face a massive claim.

The Alliance Party has confirmed that Mr Farry did discuss the issue with his civil servants when he was Employment Minister at Stormont.

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

The News Letter asked Mr Farry why he did not extend the law to NI when he was Employment Minister.

However he failed to address the question.

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

Mr Farry told the News Letter: “I was aware of the Bear Scotland ruling when I was Minister for Employment & Learning and had a number of discussions with civil servants regarding the potential implications for Northern Ireland.

“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. It is important to allow that process to run its course.”

Solicitor John McShane, who represented the PSNI officers, said the GB legislation which capped back pay to two years had not been extended to NI.

Mr Farry’s role in the row was revealed today by the Nolan Show.