Robinson: jumped or forced into low pay action?

Fionnuala O’Connor railed against critics of the current settlement (subs required) in Northern Ireland yesterday. It’s not clear exactly who she was referring to, but there are several interesting developments that have come to a head because, however imperfect the institutions may be, decisions have been made largely because our previously responsibility-free politicos, have been forced (or are about to be forced) to make decisions. The most prominent is the forever vacillating Education Minister, who is being edged (excruciatingly) slowly towards compromise with her Unionist colleagues. The other is the Minster for Finance, Peter Robinson whose upbeat announcement that he will work with the Unions to formulate an improved offer to low paid civil servants. This has been going on for 38 years. But in recent years the catalyst for a local resolution may well have emanated from legal actions in England. As the Guardian reported nearly two years ago, the Unions were being threatened with legal action from some of itheir members:

…a small group of no win, no fee lawyers are suing the union over the equal pay deals already struck by union branches in parts of the country, threatening to cost the union millions of pounds in payouts. The union faces more than 900 claims by lawyers contesting the union’s equal pay strategy, which name some of the activists at this week’s conference.

The bill for settlement is £100 million. That’s a lot of money, particularly when you consider that of Northern Ireland’s £18 billion budget only £9/10 billion is marked as ‘discretionary’ expenditure as opposed to ‘mandatory’. If it were delayed for the conclusion of what are commonly interminable Labour Tribunals, some sources believe it could rise by as much as £20 million a year.

Brown has little scope for funding it from Treasury funds since he’s just shelled out £2.3 billion to cover himself on the cut of the 10 pence tax rate. So Robinson is taking all the pain now, just as his own watch on Finance continues. With falling property prices, he may have to sell off a fair amount of the government estate just to bring this low paid group up to scratch.

Despite the spin, it’s unlikely to be a decision he’s taken either lightly, or willingly.

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  • fair_deal

    “he may have to sell off a fair amount of the government estate just to bring this low paid group up to scratch”

    The under-spend could cover it but at the cost of boosts to key sectors and infrastructure.

  • Mick Fealty

    I thought the figures you were quoting on the Maze stadium were remarkably close to these. Might there be a connection?

  • Mark McGregor

    Mick,

    I think Corey’s comment that ‘He said the union had last year begun an industrial tribunal process’ answers the question on if he was pushed.

    Though spinning it as a grand gesture was a work of a genius and bought by every media outlet it was pitched to.

  • fair_deal

    Mick

    I think it is more coincidence than conspiracy in terms of the figures involved.

  • pacman

    Having been an AO for far more years than I care to remember during the lean promotion years in the 90’s, I’ve heard today that some sort of legislation exists that states that this will only apply to the last eight years, despite one report today that suggests it’s been going on for 38 years. Does anyone else know of this?

    Having gained promotion in 2000 to the EOII grade, it’ll be just my luck that I’m excluded.

  • Mark McGregor

    Pacman,

    Equal pay legislation only allows for 6 years back pay even if the disparity is much longer.

    Don’t know about the EOII grade, ask your rep. Some grades were already assessed and remedied if necessary

  • pacman

    Cheers Mark – fingers crossed.

  • Mark McGregor

    Pacman,

    Uncross those fingers, from what I hear your Union screwed you.

    While they were battling on the general low pay issue the let this entire area slip until they recently identified a vulnerability to legal action on gender discrimination as Mick links above.

    As far as I can find out, after several calls, the EOI and EOII’s got an uplift at clerical grade to bring them in line with the technical grades several years ago. Your Union didn’t raise the issue of backdating then and the time limit for an appeal to the Tribunal has passed.

    Your only possible way for recouping the loss of 6 years worth of the underpayment seems to be by taking your union to the courts and getting it from them – and essentially from the subs of other workers.

    Absolute bloody disgrace. Though I’d love to be corrected.

  • Yer Woman

    I was an AO for two years from 2005 to 2007 – will I get any sort of back pay despite moving on to another private sector job?

  • Mark McGregor

    Yer Woman,

    Doesn’t seem automatic, though you should be entitled, I think you or your Union had six months to raise it at a Tribunal or get an agreement from your employer otherwise you could be denied your entitlement for any back payment meaning it may be possible that your only recourse is a civil action against the Union like those linked by Mick above. Even the pension uplifts mat be limited to those retired in the last 6 months.

    Just my reading but given the failings of Unions and employers on this issue for decades I’d go with legal advice over Slugger, DFPNI press releases or Union claims.

  • Jo

    I just await a contribution from Slugger regulars to the effect that anyone in the CS is lucky to have a job, let alone a pay rise.

    Heres news. guys there is justice, and you’ll get yours. 🙂

  • “The most prominent is the forever vacillating Education Minister, who is being edged (excruciatingly) slowly towards compromise with her Unionist colleagues.”

    Mick

    What do you mean by compromise, should a minister who has been put into office to bring the education system of the north into the 21st century compromise on this, funny when Blair was shitting on British workers and Iraqis, almost all of those who are now attacking Caitríona Ruane on slugger backed his stupid bullshit about taking tough choices.

    What you want is to compromise the educations of the majority of working class children because middle class unionists and nationalist religious bigots wish to ring fence there children’s preferential education at the cost of the majority. [Plus of course maintain their privileged position with their communities. Catholic church]

    There is nothing wrong with compromise if it benefits all, but the old protestant state was full of examples where compromise benefited middle class Unionists against the best interest of both nationalist and unionist working class people. If you wish for the latest set up to fail, be my guest, have a rerun of those days.

    Perhaps it is time the Protestant working classes got up off their knees and ceased forelock tugging to the big house and remembered that these days there is no northern industry for the grand master etc to get them or their children a job in.

  • Comrade Stalin

    There is nothing wrong with compromise if it benefits all, but the old protestant state was full of examples where compromise benefited middle class Unionists against the best interest of both nationalist and unionist working class people.

    I came from a working class background and went to St Malachy’s, and so did lots of the other working class people I knew from there.

  • SetantaBhoy

    Couple of points of clarification here. NIPSA had little alternative but to resort to the law – the Civil Service was beating them up following the debacle a few years ago when they (NIPSA) balloted there members to continue with industrial action. The Union wanted it to continue but the members voted against what the Union wanted.

    Obviously that is democracy in action, and maybe NIPSA where wrong, but you can imagine how that must have affected the negotiations a couple of years when the last two year deal was acceoted by the Union.

    Now they have to do something and this is as good a way as any to get some justice.

    There are lots of ET’s (and at least on Judicial Review) outstanding against the Northern Ireland Civil Service – so far they remain unmoved by them. Perhaps they think the law doesnt affect them?

    There are real issues with low pay in the Civil Service in NI (just compare them to any one else in the UK in the civil service). There are also problems with other Terms and Conditions.

    For example a civil servant in NI gets half the maternity leave of most other civil servants in the UK – ultimately thay have the same employer so why the difference?

    Also worth noting that there are other Unions involved in this, Unison and FDA to name just two, and NIPSA really need to make sure that they represent there members otherwise the other unions may find there membership increasing.

    There is power in a union…