Northern Ireland

Huge response to prison officers redundancy plan

Prison officer locking cell door
Image caption The redundancy scheme was launched last month

Nearly every one of the 650 Northern Ireland prison officers aged over 50 have expressed an interest in taking voluntary redundancy.

Enhanced lump sum payments are on offer to encourage the longest serving officers to leave and 99% have registered their interest.

The redundancy scheme was launched last month targeting the highest paid members of staff aged over 50.

The response has greatly exceeded the expectations of the prison service.

There are around 1,800 prison officers in Northern Ireland.

The prison service hopes 540 of them will volunteer to retire early to make way for new recruits on lower salaries.

However, 99% of the officers eligible to apply for the scheme have lodged formal expressions of interest and asked for details of the financial packages they would receive.

That does not mean they have signed up for voluntary redundancy - but does suggest they like the sound of what's on offer.

The sums on offer are much lower than the packages for police officers under the Patten redundancy scheme.

But they are much more generous than standard public sector pension schemes.

£55,000 lump sum

Payments will depend on length of service and salary.

The most experienced officers will receive a lump sum of more than £55,000, which they would have received anyway as part of the civil service early retirement scheme.

They will also receive a number of enhanced payments, equivalent to 21 months salary, bringing the total to just over £120,000, plus an annual pension of £18,500.

The prison service has said the redundancy scheme is essential for a new beginning.

The fact that nearly every eligible officer has expressed an interest in the scheme means the prison service will be confident it can achieve its aim without the need for compulsory redundancies - which could provoke industrial action and opposition from unionist politicians.

However, on the down side, it could also mean that many of the officers are unhappy with the direction the prison service is taking and don't want to be part of it.

The prison officers who have expressed an interest in the scheme will each receive details of how much their package is worth early next month.

They'll then have four weeks to decide whether to accept.

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