[Northern Ireland] Farry defends decision to prevent holiday pay cap

Stephen Farry - the Alliance deputy leader - has defended the decision to not impose a cap on backdated pay claims. His choice has the potential to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds, Belfast Telegraph reports.

At the time of the decision, Dr Farry was Stormont's Employment and Learning Minister. He acknowledges that the matter had not been brought to the Executive, that it had been his call. He said he believed imposing a two-year cap on backdated holiday pay for civil servants would have been "counter-productive".

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) discussed a cap - one imposed by England and Wales - but its Stormont counterpart did not impose it. That decision means that public and private sector employers potentially face massive bills, backdated decades.

Earlier this month the Court of Appeal ruled that police holiday pay dating back 20 years should have taken overtime into account. The PSNI now faces a £40m claims bill from staff. The ruling could entitle any employee who has worked overtime to make a claim.

Dr Farry - who was the Stormont minister responsible for public sector pay policy - reportedly said he consulted in 2015 with "key stakeholders" to get their opinion on Northern Ireland introducing a similar cap to England and Wales. "There were mixed views on that, with business organisations supportive, but NIPSA, NIC-ICTU and the Law Centre all strongly opposed," he said.

The MLA said he asked officials to draft a consultation paper about introducing a cap but ultimately decided not to go ahead after further discussions. "Any steps that curtail people's rights or potential rights as employees are not to be undertaken lightly," Dr Farry said. "In Britain, the two-year cap was rushed through in two weeks.

"That option did not apply in Northern Ireland, and with good reason, for example, there could have been potential equality implications which must be explored.

"A potential legislative proposal such as this required a public consultation, followed by consideration of all responses, Executive approval and committee scrutiny of any decision to act.

"There was also legal advice that unlike in Great Britain, the measure may have needed to be advanced by primary legislation here. Indications were also given that the two-year cap was potentially illegal."

 On the recent Court of Appeal ruling, he said, "It is important not to jump to conclusions on the financial implications within Northern Ireland from the PSNI judgment and make extrapolations across the public sector.

"I understand the head of the Civil Service and the Department of Finance are exploring all of these issues. Furthermore, the PSNI may yet decide to appeal the Court of Appeal judgment to the UK Supreme Court."