While millions take pay cuts, union leaders rake it in

According to the website of the Certification Officer, the government official responsible for registering trade unions and employers' organisations, the payments made to the general secretaries of the ten unions representing the big majority of British trade unionists in 2007 averaged almost £80,000 a year - not counting generous benefits.

The median wage for a full-time worker last year was £24,908, a figure inflated by "high earners" ie non-workers at the top end.

The various general secretaries' salaries cannot be exactly compared, since the unions list expenses in different ways, some without a person-by person break down. (In no case do they include the union's national insurance contribution as an employer.) What is clear is the extent to which the leaders of our trade unions are still raking it in - at a time when millions of us are suffering real-terms wage cuts. (Paul Kenny, on £81,000 a year, has advocated that GMB members take pay cuts to "save jobs".)

The partial exception to this miserable spectacle seems to be Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack, who after his election in 2005 fulfilled his election pledge to accept only something like a fire fighter's wage by reducing his take home pay to what it would be if his salary was £40,000 and contributing the rest to a special union fund (information from official statement, September 2005) - giving him something like £29,000 take home against a minimum £24,000 for a trained fire fighter in London. Mark Serwotka of the PCS, meanwhile, has violated a similar promise by giving back only £4,000 (PCS accounts). That means that in 2007 he was taking home about £50,000 in an industry where the average pre-tax pay was £20,000, 28.6% earned between £15,000 and £20,000, and 18.2% earned less than £15,000 (PCS figures, July 2007).

The figures are:

Bob Crow (RMT) - £79,564 in salary, £26,115 in pension contributions, £13,013 expenses
John Hannett (USDAW) - £81,742 salary, £16,389 pension contributions
Billy Hayes (CWU) - £83,530 salary, £14,190 pension contributions
Sally Hunt (UCU) - £63,743 salary, £7,612 pension contributions, £2705 car benefit (start of June 2006 to end of May 2007)
Paul Kenny (GMB) - £81,000 salary, £21,000 superannuation (pension contributions), £8,000 car
Dave Prentis (Unison) - £92,187 salary, £23,603 pension contributions, £11,646 expenses and car benefit
Derek Simpson (Unite-Amicus) - £62,673 salary, £16,156 pension contributions, £13,333 car allowance, £26,181 housing benefit
Mark Serwotka (PCS) - £82,094 salary, £26,104 pensions contributions, £2,245 additional housing cost allowance and additional housing cost supplement
Steve Sinnott (NUT) - £99,846 salary, £23,963 pension contributions
Tony Woodley (Unite-TGWU) - £59,333 salary, £9,552 pension contributions, car fuel £3,360
Matt Wrack (FBU) - £66,389 salary, £44,281 pension contributions, £5,134 car

Many unions pay large salaries and expenses not only to their general secretary, but to other officials, elected and non-elected, as well. These figures are thus only the tip of the iceberg.

While our union leaders have lifestyles more like the bosses' than ours, they are much more likely to continue to sell us short. Activists must renew the demand that officials give back everything above something like the average wage of a skilled worker in the industry, and launch a fight for union rules to change so that salaries are reduced to this level.

Postscript According to the Times (17/01/09), Derek Simpson now receives nearly £200,000 in pay and benefits, with his pay package increasing 17 percent this year. He also has the right to stay in his £800,000 house in Hertfordshire until he dies, after which his partner will be able to remain there at a heavily subsidised rate.

Simpson, according the Times, demanded that the union subsidise his accommodation to "make it affordable" - a perk worth about £40,00, bringing his total remuneration to £194,252.

We can assume all this is true, since Unite's official response was: "These arrangements were approved by the executive committee at the time and have been a matter of public record ever since. His remuneration is published every year and is properly approved every year."

For our union leaders to be living this sort of lifestyle is wrong in itself, particularly at a time when so many of us are taking pay cuts (Unite members earn, on average, less than the national average wage). In addition, Simpson has handed a massive propaganda coup to the bosses and the right-wing press. He and his like are a disgrace to the labour movement.