‘Hugely significant questions’ are being asked about Northern Ireland’s economy after claims that a successful £40m backdated pay claim by police could apply to all public sector – and even private sector – organisations.
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 could face a massive claim.
UUP finance spokesman, Steve Aiken MLA, said workers should be paid money they are entitled to.
“The ruling does, however, pose a number of hugely significant questions,” he said.
“Firstly, we need to know the budgetary implications for the Northern Ireland Civil Service and its associated public bodies. Secondly, we need to know the legal implications for the tens of thousands of workers across the private sector who regularly perform overtime duties.”
The Department of Finance said it is in “early discussions with the unions about backdated holiday pay”.
The court ruled that miscalculations arose because holiday pay had been based on basic working hours, not actual hours worked and overtime.
Solicitor John McShane, who represented the PSNI officers, said GB legislation which capped back pay to two years had not been extended to NI.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the matter “must be dealt with in a way that meets the needs of public sector workers” but also protects public services.
Sinn Fein NI leader Michelle O’Neill MLA said it is “important that workers receive the correct pay” but that it was crucial to clarify as soon as possible the potential implications.
All three parties have contacted the civil service for urgent clarification.