Sunday, 5 February 2012
Union Fat Cats
I've just been reading the 2009/10 Annual Report of the Certification Officer - a body set up by statute many years ago - which has limited powers to report on the affairs of trade unions.
One of the areas covered in the report - are the salaries and benefits of trade union general secretaries - which has some interesting information on Unite - Britain's biggest union which had two general secretaries up until recently.
The Certification Officer's report records the following details:
Unite the Union
Joint General Secretary (1)
Salary - £97,027
Benefits - £89,599
Joint General Secretary (2)
Salary - £93,815
Benefits - £28,293
Now I don't know about anyone else - but I've never heard of any union boss getting £89,599 in benefits - that's an incredible figure.
Even £28,293 seems high to me - because if that's all taken up pension contributions - then the rate of contribution is running at 30%.
While for JGS (1) the ratio of benefits to salary is set at a truly mind boggling 92%.
Now the Certification Officer's report doesn't give any further details - and the individual unions aren't obliged to either.
But persumably one of the JSGs referred to in the report includes a certain Derek Simpson - who has featured on the blog site previously.
Here's what I wrote back in August 2011.
Trade Union Fat Cats (August 31st 2011)
The annual TUC conference takes place next month and some people - me for one - will be waiting with baited breath - to hear what the brothers have to say about the 'fat cat' behaviour of Unite and its recently departed general secretary - Derek Simpson.
Meantime the Private Eye has performed a service in keeping this issue in the public spotlight - while the TUC, Unite and all the other unions - try desperately to brush the whole affair under the carpet.
Here's what the Eye has to say.
TUC News - Pay daze
Derek Simpson, former joint general secretary of Unite, hit the headlines when he topped the trades union rich list by pocketing a farewell package worth £519,659.
Alas, uncomradely elements in Britain's biggest union are questioning whether the £361,347 "severance" element of the package was properly paid. If not, they say, shouldn't he be obliged to give it back?
Simpson's severance payment was supposedly authorised at a meeting of the general purposes and finance committee (GPFC) of the former union Amicus in March 2008, prior to its full merger with the Transport and General Workers' Union, which created Unite. Some attendees of that meeting, however, have claimed that it wasn't properly constituted - the minute taker, for instance, having been asked to leave the room.
One person who was there, Aliatair Fraser, has written to Unite's general secretary, Len McCluskey, telling him that Simpson's severance payment was not discussed at the meeting, and no vote was taken.
The only mention of the subject was by Simpson's sidekick, Les Bayliss (Eyes passim), who at the time was one of several Amicus assistant general secretaries (AGS). Bayliss claimed the union "had looked after our enemies", a reference to severance payments made to officers who were unsympathetic to simpson and who had been forced out of the union before claiming "we should be generous to our friends". But no further discussion took place.
Other chums of simpson, such as another Amicus AGS, Ed Sweeney, have argued that Simpson should have received a severance deal based on a higher "notional" salary, rather than his actual pay.
Simpson retired at the end of an extended term of office and was not made redundant, so many Unite members are puzzeld as to how he could be entitled to any form of "severance" payment.
If the payment was in breach of union rules and nothing is done about it, activists such as Jerry Hicks - runner-up to McCluskey in last year's election for general secretary - are threatening to take legal action to recover the money. McCluskey, meanwhile, says he only heard about the severance deal recently and hasn't a clue who authorised it. Ordinary members are mightily reassured."
A key point to note here is that Unite the union - will be investigating this issue itself - just like the police used to do in the bad old days.
Unlike other areas of public life - trade unions are completely unregulated and there is no external independent figure to whom ordinary union members - or members of the public can takle a complaint.
Now this would matter if trade unions didn't have their fingers in lots of different pies - such as playing a decisive role in handing the leadership of the Labour party to Ed Miliband - the favoured candidate of the Unite leadership - and one Derek Simpson.
Unite is also Labour's biggest donor - and pours millions of pounds into Labour coffers - on a regular basis.
So a big step forward would be a independent regulator - with powers to investigate complaints against trade union bosses and union hierarchies.
Who at the moment feel free to 'lord it' over ordinary members - and treat their complaints with lofty disdain.