Northern Ireland annual survey of hours and earnings statistics

Date published: 03 November 2020

The Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2020 was published today by the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency. The report provides provisional estimates for 2020 and final revised estimates for 2019.

Second statistical publication on work quality published today by NISRA
Second statistical publication on work quality published today by NISRA

Weekly earnings decrease in NI

  • Median gross weekly earnings for full-time employees in April 2020 decreased by 1.1% from £535 in 2019 to £529 in 2020; the first annual decrease in weekly earnings since 2014 and the largest decrease on record.
  • UK weekly earnings increased by 0.1% to £586. NI has the second lowest earnings of the UK regions, with weekly earnings £57 below the UK average.
  • Real weekly earnings in NI decreased by 2.0% returning real earnings close to 2010 levels while real UK weekly earnings increased by 0.9% over the year.

Decrease in private sector earnings larger than decrease in public sector

  • The decrease in weekly earnings over the year was driven by decreases in the private sector (3.2%). Decreases in pay were experienced across the spectrum for private sector workers, with those at the lowest 10% of the earnings distribution experiencing the largest decrease of 5.7% and those at the top 10% experiencing a 3.5% decrease. Over three-quarters of employees with the lowest 10% of earnings received furlough pay at a reduced rate in the survey period.
  • Weekly earnings in the public sector decreased at a lower rate (0.9%). Public sector earnings remain above earnings in the private sector (34% higher, £619 compared to £463). 
  • Some of the difference between earnings in the public and private sector is due to differences in the composition of the workforces. Many of the lowest paid occupations exist primarily in the private sector, while there is a larger proportion of professional occupations in the public sector. Furthermore, approximately a quarter of private sector employees in the ASHE sample were furloughed on reduced rates of pay during the survey period, compared to less than 1% of public sector employees.

NI had highest percentage of Low Paid jobs of all the UK regions

  • Approximately a fifth of all jobs in NI were ‘low-paid’ (based on OECD measure of low pay). This is the lowest proportion in NI in 20 years but is the highest proportion of the 12 UK regions.
  • The proportion of jobs below the National Minimum and National Living Wage increased from 1% in 2019 to 10% in 2020. More than 90% of employee jobs below this level were on furlough rates of pay during the survey period.

Eleventh year when the gender pay gap in NI has been zero or in favour of full-time females

  • This is the eleventh year when the gender pay gap in NI has been zero or in favour of full-time females. Median hourly earnings (excluding overtime) for full-time females (£13.28) was 3.6% greater than those for full-time males (£12.82).
  • NI remains the only region in the UK where full-time females earn more per hour on average than full-time males. In the UK as a whole full-time females earned 7.4% less than full-time males per hour.
  • The gender pay gap in NI is driven by a larger proportion of full-time females working in higher paid occupations than males, and a larger proportion of full-time females than males working in the public sector. When all employees (full-time and part-time employees) are considered, the gender pay gap is reversed, and males earn more on average than females. This is because a greater proportion of females than males are in part-time work, where average pay is lower across all the occupation groups.

Annual earnings increase over the year

  • Median annual earnings increased by 3.2% for all full-time employees in NI over the year to £28,000, but remained lower than the UK median of £31,000. The highest 10% of earners earned approximately £52,000 and above.

Notes to editors: 

  1. ASHE is a UK wide survey of employers that provides information on hourly, weekly and annual earnings by gender, work pattern, industry and occupation. The sample comprises approximately 1% of all jobs in NI covered by Pay As You Earn (PAYE) schemes. The reference date for the most recent survey was the pay-week (or other pay-period if the employee was paid less frequently) which included 22nd April 2020.
  2. The survey reference date (22nd April) was during the early stages of the Coronavirus Pandemic and was within the time period for the first Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) grant. The CJRS was introduced to support employers from 1st March whose businesses were impacted by the pandemic. The first CJRS worked by providing grants to employers of up to 80% of the salary to a maximum value of £2,500 per employee per month, while covering some of the cost of employer pension and National Insurance Contributions.
  3. Approximately 25% of employees in the survey were furloughed/supported by CJRS and, within this, approximately 15% were furloughed on reduced rates of pay. Users should note that the headline ASHE estimates therefore include those supported under the CJRS. The proportion of employees furloughed in the ASHE sample is provided for context and should not be used as standalone furlough estimates. HMRC statistics on CJRS are available on the GOV.UK website.
  4. The survey response rate at 80% of those employees sampled is below the response rate in 2019 (90%). A number of responses were received after the survey closed, including a number of responses from the Education sector. As is normal practice, those responses will be included in the revised 2020 outputs published in 2021.
  5. The headline measure of earnings from ASHE is median gross weekly earnings for full-time employees and is referred to as ‘weekly earnings’ for ease of reporting. A range of hourly, weekly and annual measures relating to full and part-time employees are available alongside the main bulletin on the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings page of the NISRA website
  6. ASHE data are used by those who have an interest in NI economic and labour market policy. The figures are widely used to chart changes in NI earnings levels over time and relative to the rest of the UK. Government Departments require a variety of indicators, which measure the state of the labour market, including earnings across industries and occupations as well as for the public and private sector.
  7. The mean and the median measure different things and either can be appropriate depending on what the user is trying to measure. The mean measures the average amount earned by individuals, but in a skewed distribution such as earnings this measure is susceptible to small numbers of very high earners. The median measures the amount earned by the average individual, i.e. the level of earnings at which half the population are above and half the population are below. A visual explanation of this is available on the NISRA website. Please note that changes in median values for sub-sectors of the population are not necessarily additive at the population level.
  8. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) definitions of low pay and high pay are used. Low pay is defined as the value that is two-thirds of the UK median hourly earnings (e.g. £13.62 x 2/3 = £9.08 in 2020). High pay is defined as the value that is 1.5 times the UK median hourly earnings (e.g. £13.62 x 1.5 = £20.43 in 2020).
  9. For media enquiries, please contact the DfE Press Office at
  10. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.
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  12. Feedback is welcomed and should be addressed to: Responsible statistician, Ashleigh Warwick, Economic & Labour Market Statistics (ELMS) or Tel: 028 902 55174.

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