Northern Ireland

DUP leader Peter Robinson civil service pay freeze call

The DUP leader Peter Robinson has called for a civil service pay freeze for the next two years for anyone earning more than £21,000.

The measure is one of several economic proposals unveiled on Monday morning.

He has also called for the domestic regional rate, frozen in recent years, to go up by the rate of inflation over the next four years.

Mr Robinson announced his plans at a business breakfast in east Belfast.

Bonuses

The proposal on civil service pay is one of a number of measures, including an end to "one-step progression" under which workers gradually move up their pay scales and the removal of performance bonuses, except for those paid at the most basic level.

The DUP leader said salaries made up 50% of expenditure and had to be looked at in the current climate.

"I don't think it's something you would do with any great enthusiasm, but it's necessary under the special circumstances," Mr Robinson said.

"Far better in my view to keep people in jobs than having to reduce the number of jobs and put people on the dole."

About 13% of public sector workers are employed directly by the civil service but the DUP want the same pay restraints across the board, including for medical staff and teachers, whose salaries are usually negotiated on a UK-wide basis.

'Common cause'

Mr Robinson said that legislation could be introduced to cap the pay of all public sector workers though he would prefer if an agreement was reached.

"Better by far that we talk to these people, that we bring them along with us and that we recognise that we have a common cause," he added.

Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance general secretary Brian Campfield said that civil servants were already being treated unfairly over pay.

"Since 2003, civil service has increased by 9.2% while the retail price index inflation is 20.5%," he said.

"Over that period of time, that means civil servants have taken a real terms reduction in their pay."

Sinn Fein financial spokesperson Mitchel McLaughlin said he had "reservations" about the pay freeze proposals.

He added: "In our view, it is those at the very top of the civil service pay scale who need to be made to contribute more, not those on low grades.

He said he was looking forward to meeting with the DUP to discuss its proposals.

Divert

The proposal on the regional rate would be accompanied by a demand that local councils, which levy the domestic rate, would match the commitment to an inflation-only rise.

Mr Robinson has also proposed that public bodies like the Port of Belfast should be required to pay a dividend to the executive.

His party believes such a move could raise tens of millions of pounds over the next four years.

It is understood the DUP plans do not include any proposal to introduce water charges.

The Northern Ireland Executive's current budget - the money used for day-to-day running costs - is being reduced gradually by 6.9% by the end of 2014-15.

Its capital budget, the money spent on new buildings and other infrastructure has been reduced more significantly, with Finance Minister Sammy Wilson putting the overall cut by the end of 2015 at about 40%.

Another DUP proposal is to divert about £100m from the current budget to the capital budget.

Sinn Fein has said it would save £1.9bn through a variety of measures, including a £2,000 per month tax on mobile phone masts and a voluntary pay cut of 15% for politicians.