Northern Ireland

NI police crime scene investigators take action over pay

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Media captionThe dispute is over how much they are paid to be on call

Crime scene investigators who gather forensic evidence to help the police catch criminals are to take industrial action.

The dispute is over how much they are paid to be on call to work evenings and weekends.

Some work for the PSNI and others for the Forensic Science Agency. They provide similar services but those within the PSNI are paid less.

The scientific staff working for the PSNI want equal payment.

The vast majority of the 140 scientific staff working for the PSNI will begin industrial action on Friday. They will refuse to work outside their normal hours from 12:00 BST.

Staff employed in such roles search the scenes of serious crimes for physical evidence, fingerprints and DNA traces that can help detectives identify those responsible.

The move is a huge concern for the police as it could seriously affect their ability to collect evidence needed for prosecutions.

The dispute is over the payment of out of hours allowances to staff who work alongside each other, wear the same white suits and search for similar evidence, but are routinely employed by two different organisations.

The largest public sector union, NIPSA, represents staff from both organisations.

According to the union, on weekdays, PSNI crime scene investigators are paid an allowance of £4.90 per night to be on call.

At the weekend, they receive almost £12 a day for making themselves available for emergency deployment.

They do not receive any additional payment if they are actually called out to gather evidence at a crime scene.

In contrast, those working for the Forensic Science Agency are paid more than £35 a day for being on call from Monday to Friday, and just over £47 for making themselves available for duty at weekends.

If they are actually called out to attend a crime scene, they receive an additional payment of almost £65.

That means a PSNI investigator called to a scene on a Saturday night receives a payment of less than £12.

An investigator working for the Forensic Science Agency would receive just over £100 more.

"This allowance has been in place for 20 years now, it has never been increased, that means we are asking people to put their lives on hold in the evenings for less that a fiver and that is just not on," said Ryan McKinney assistant secretary of NIPSA.

"I don't think there are many people who would agree to that kind of arrangement, it is unreasonable to ask people to commit to that for a fiver."

NIPSA said it submitted a claim in January this year for scientific staff working for the PSNI to be paid the same as those working for the Forensic Science Agency.

The union accuses the PSNI of failing to do enough to resolve the dispute, and rejects suggestions that the industrial action is irresponsible because it could result in criminals evading capture.

"The ball is back in the PSNI management's court," said Mr McKinney.

"They've had months to resolve this issue and they have chosen not to do so.

"No-one knows better than the very people who are involved in this action how important it is to collect evidence, they are very reluctant to go down this road.

"We have attempted over years to resolve this issue, but they cannot be held to ransom because their job is critical.

"The fact that their job is critical is why they should be paid a decent rate for making themselves available a couple of times a week, putting their lives on hold, that is why they should now be compensated properly for doing so."

In response, the PSNI expressed disappointment that a resolution has not been found, and insisted that its ability to gather evidence will not be diminished during the period of industrial action.

"While the PSNI does not have the authority to change terms and conditions without the approval of the department of justice and the department of finance and personnel, negotiations have been ongoing in an attempt to find a resolution and avoid industrial action, including the use of the Labour Relations Agency," a statement said.

"We are disappointed a resolution has not been found at this stage however we are continuing to address this matter. Contingency plans have also been put in place to ensure there is no diminution of service in the event of any planned industrial action."

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