Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin to end 'average wage' policy due to rule changes

Image caption 28 Sinn Féin MLAs sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly

Sinn Féin say their long standing policy of paying their full time staff and elected representatives equal pay cannot continue due to changes in the Stormont rules.

Until now, all Sinn Féin staff and MLAs are understood to have taken home what the party refers to as an average wage.

That is believed to be in the region of £26,000 per year.

However, Stormont's Independent Financial Review Panel has changed the rules.

Three new grades have been introduced for Stormont staff, starting at £16,000, £19,750 and £22,750.

Sinn Féin is currently implementing the new regulations. But the party has expressed concern about "the implications of these regulations for workers' terms and conditions including maternity/paternity and sick leave".

The BBC has learned that many Sinn Féin staff expressed unhappiness at a recent internal meeting to discuss the changes.

Some complained that Stormont employees will be paid less than their counterparts in the Dáil (Irish Parliament).

Pay differences

Image caption Leinster House, the seat of the Republic's parliament, Dáil Éireann, where Sinn Féin have 23 seats.

Sinn Féin sources say there is a difference in the wages for staff north and south, but this is because the different parliamentary institutions have different wage bands.

Sources say the party's MLAs will continue to be paid about £26,000. They say the party's TDs (Members of the Irish Parliament) continue to receive the Irish average wage, although a review is now underway into the pay policy.

Previously the party's political director in the south, Ken O'Connell, has been quoted as saying the "one size fits all" policy on wages no longer works.

It is understood about 30 Sinn Féin staff will have to re-apply for their own jobs - in some cases this is because they will be working for a new MLA.

Sinn Féin sources acknowledge that what they describe as a "handful of key staff" will not be subject to the changes.

The BBC understands that a number of employees have been in contact with trade union officials to discuss the changes to their conditions.

A Sinn Féin source says the party is not happy about the Independent Financial Review Panel's latest determination, but believes it is legally watertight.

The source expressed concern that the latest pay rates could deter people who live a long distance away from Stormont working at the Assembly.

The source told the BBC that the pay cuts for support staff were so extensive that it would not be feasible for Sinn Féin to subsidise all the employees involved by bringing them up to the average wage.

Sinn Féin says other Stormont parties will also feel the impact of the latest changes as they believe some support staff for other parties have been on higher salary levels than their own employees.

Another member of staff told BBC News NI the development was a "huge ideological change" as MLAs are now recognised as more important than party employees.

They also expressed unhappiness that Sinn Féin employees in Northern Ireland will get paid less than their counterparts in the Dáil (Irish parliament).

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