“It’s the rich what gets the pleasure
And the poor what gets the blame
It’s the same the whole world over
Ain’t it a bloomin’ shame”.
Funny how some old verses remain timeless. Just in case you thought “We’re all in this together” meant “We’re all equally bearing the burden of this recession together”, let me give you a few figures. A study published by the High Pay Centre today shows that the top men (and occasionally women) in Britain’s biggest listed companies earn 143 times as much as their average employee. Some examples:
At Next, top man Lord Wolfson gets £4.6 million a year, while his staff, mostly shop-floor workers, take home £10,000 a year on average. And so you don’t have to do the sums, that’s 459 times less than the boss. Compass Group, which employs cooks, cleaners and security people, has a boss called Richard Cousins. Mr Cousins trousered £5.5 million last year, which was just 418 times the average for his workers. The typical FTSE 100 CEO brought home £4.7 million last year, which must have pleased his wife and children. Especially as it was up from £4.1 million the year before. The typical FTSE 100 worker, in contrast, brought home somewhere around £33,000.
Now I have the deepest respect for businessmen and women who launch or lead companies. It’s hard work. You have to sit in an office and make decisions. You have to go to lunch with important people. You have all that responsibility on your shoulders. Ordinary workers don’t have to do any of that. Some of them, if they got to sit at a desk, would consider themselves lucky.
But are the CEOs really working 143 time harder than their average employee? Or 459 times? In a recession, does it make sense for one man to take home £5.5 million? You’d have to stay up all night every night to spend that bag of swag.
Democracy is a wonderful thing and we should all strive to ensure it’s more widespread and real in the political world. But you never – OK, I never – hear talk of work democracy. By and large most people work hard at their jobs. Why then should the boss earn 143 times as much or 418 times as much? Is their job i43/418 times harder? 143/418 time more boring?
Rather than leaving it at naming and shaming these CEOs, maybe employees should adopt the practice of of a group of trade unionists in 1994. They were attending the British Gas annual meeting, so with them they brought an 18-stone saddleback pig. Over the period of the meeting they fed the animal tracle-covered £5 notes to demonstrate what they thought of their CEO Cedric Brown receiving a 75% pay rise.
A dramatic parallel but maybe a bit unfair. To the pig.