The British government was given fresh warning today it could yet face the threat of industrial action by police officers in the North over pay.
The chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) said such action could be taken if the UK's Home Secretary again ignored recommendations from the Police Arbitration Tribunal when it ruled on this year’s police pay rise.
Negotiators on behalf of police federations across the UK have rejected a 2.32% offer put forward and the tribunal has again been called in to recommend how far the Government should go towards the claim of 3.5%.
PFNI chairman Terry Spence expressed concerns at the annual conference near Belfast today that Jacqui Smith may again ignore the arbitration recommendations.
He made clear that officers were still furious about the betrayal of police faith and the statutory negotiating machinery last year when the secretary of state imposed a deal which was worth only 1.9% over a full year.
He said: “The sour taste that left us with has not gone away.”
He gave Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward a clear message for Cabinet that the UK police service was angry that, for the third year running, the British government had failed to meet its legitimate expectations.
Hinting that officers would look again at the option of industrial action he said: “The government, far from compensating us for our lack of financial muscle, exploits to the full our disciplined and selfless professionalism.
“However, last year, when other more bloody-minded public sector unions demanded a higher pay settlement the government almost immediately caved in.
“It was this double standard that led UK police federations to explore a change in the law to permit full industrial rights for the police service in the absence of finding arbitration.
“Secretary of State, I have to ask: is this the only kind of language that this government understands?”
It was not the natural instinct of police officers to take industrial action, Mr Spence said, but he added that “It soon might be”.
“If this is the only way that we can get the message across to you and your Cabinet colleagues, that we were unfairly treated last year and again this year then so be it,” he said.
“The annual pay award has become an intolerable charade because of your unwillingness to recognise the just position of our pay claim.”
He recalled that only last week the British Home Secretary had launched a consulted document on the setting up of a Pay Review Body without waiting for the results of the current process – a move which pointed to the scrapping of the current negotiating body, he said.
“I have to say that we have nothing but foreboding for the future of police negotiations in the UK. I know that such a review body will lead to greater pressure for officers to seek the full protection of industrial rights,” he concluded.