Northern Ireland news

Union chief slates earnings of public health bosses

Patricia McKeown of Unison has criticised the six-figure salaries paid to the north's top public health bosses Picture Mark Marlow.
Seanín Graham

A TRADE union chief has criticised the six-figure salaries of an "elite" group of public health bosses in Northern Ireland at a time when her members are striking over pay parity.

Unison secretary general Patricia McKeown was reacting to a report about the earnings of senior directors at the Public Health Agency (PHA).

According to the Tax-Payers Alliance, the organisation's acting director of public health, Dr Adrian Mairs, is the best paid health executive in the UK - with a total annual package, including employer pension contributions of £311,500.

Two of Dr Mairs PHA colleagues, nursing director Mary Hinds and former public health director Dr Carolyn Harper earned in excess of £100,000 for 2018/19. Both women retired last year.

Meanwhile, the PHA's interim chief executive, Valerie Watts - who also heads up the Health and Social Care Board - is earning a salary of £160,000 a year.

A PHA spokesman disputed the employer's pension contribution for Dr Mairs (which are listed on the agency's 2018/19 annual accounts), who succeeded Dr Harper after she stepped down last February.

He said: "In addition to (Dr Mairs) gross salary of £155k-£160k, employer superannuation contributions of £20k-25k were made during the financial year 2018/19.

"The figure quoted by the Taxpayers' Alliance as being an 'employer pension contribution' is in fact an actuarial calculation of the impact of one year's earnings on aggregated future pension earnings. It is incorrect to call this the employer pension contribution, and is therefore inaccurate to record it as part of total earnings for the financial year."

But the Unison chief said the disclosure of the lucrative salaries coincides with healthcare employees fighting for "equality and fairness" in terms of earnings.

"It has been the case for a very long time that people at the very top in Northern Ireland are paid in some instances more than their counterparts across the water...with an elite group able to command their own salaries," Ms McKeown said.

"At a time when our members, many of whom work for the PHA, are seeking parity with their colleagues in the UK and taking industrial action, it does not make them feel good."

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