Socialist Worker

We suffer while bosses coin it in

Issue No. 1774

Job cuts and pay cuts for us, bonanza for the bosses. That's the reality of what's happening across Britain as the recession gathers pace. Thousands more workers learned last week that they face the dole. Tens of thousands more were told their pay will be cut. Yet Britain's bosses were celebrating a year of record pay rises, and City money men cheered as shares in many firms pushing through job and pay cuts surged upwards.

By A British Airways worker

British Airways bosses are stealing Christmas presents from children. It's immoral, disgusting. The company is refusing to pay a Christmas bonus of a week's pay. It will affect 36,000 workers, from pilots to ground staff and cabin crew. For most people that will mean losing something like £300 or £350 that they had been counting on in the run-up to Christmas.

It's like being hit with the poll tax all over again. The money was supposed to be paid under a pay deal agreed two years ago. The lowest paid workers especially will have been counting on that to have any kind of Christmas-now I don't know what they'll do.

At places like Gatwick there are workers for who the money was what they were relying on to cover travel costs, as many have to drive more than 30 miles to work each day. The bonus cut is the latest move in an offensive by the company. We have had 7,000 job cuts announced since 11 September. It's not as simple as 7,000 people being sacked. It includes things like overtime being cut, but many people have been left with no overtime when they used to depend on it to make ends meet. The truth is the company was in trouble anyway, and had already planned job cuts this year and next. Basically they've used 11 September to bring forward plans from next year to this.

The company is using what you could call a 'strategy of tension'. Since 11 September they've whipped up an atmosphere of doom and gloom and panic, to make it easier to push the job and pay cuts through. It's shameful. It's worked to the extent that people are all over the place. People are worried sick about their jobs.

If somebody argues that we have to accept pay cuts to save jobs, then people can agree. But if someone argues that taking pay cuts won't save jobs, they will be listened to as well. People are furious at what is happening, but don't know how to react or what to do.

Most of the unions such as the TGWU and AEEU seem to be going along with the bonus cut. The GMB is opposed and is talking about legal action. Management is making a thing out of saying that managers will take a pay cut. But they can sign to say they don't want to take the pay cut. And even those that do have still had massive pay rises since privatisation, so they will still be doing alright.

Wave of job cuts hits every industry

Almost every sector of the economy was hit with a new wave of job cuts last week. Engineering company GKN is to axe 1,250 workers at its plants in Yeovil, Bristol, Cowes, Portsmouth and Luton. The company, which makes aerospace components, also warned it could sack another 1,800 workers next year.

Travel firm Thomas Cook announced pay cuts on top of 1,500 job cuts. Staff who keep their jobs are being told they face pay cuts of up to 10 percent. Chemical giant ICI also announced job cuts last week. Worldwide job cuts of 1,300 are to include 275 workers in Britain, including the closure of the Acheson factory in Plymouth, part of ICI's National Starch division.

Misery for workers brought joy to the City though. ICI shares jumped up in value by almost 12 percent on news of the job cuts. The money men cheered job cuts at the Prudential insurance company too. The firm announced it is to cut another 2,100 jobs on top of the 2,000 sackings it had already announced.

While workers waited to hear if they were among the one in four of the company's staff to be thrown on the dole Prudential shares jumped in price by 6 percent. Families in Wolverhampton were hit with the news that tyre multinational Goodyear was axing over 450 jobs from its plant in the town. And Matsushita ensured a miserable Christmas for around 350 workers at its mobile phone plant in Thatcham in Berkshire, announcing that the plant will shut by the end of the year.

In Runcorn the town is waiting to hear if chemical company Ineos Chlor will shut its chlorine plant, throwing 2,000 workers on the dole and putting many more jobs at risk in supply industries. The Belgian multinational, in which the former owners of the Runcorn ICI plant have 10 percent stake, is saying it will sack workers if the government doesn't bail it out.

As one Runcorn resident says, 'With high levels of unemployment and a hospital with no children's ward, maternity facilities or accident and emergency unit, added to a council which has closed down schools, one wonders how much more the people of Runcorn and Widnes are expected to take.' Workers are facing job and pay cuts across the media. The BBC is to axe 5 percent of the staff in its documentary and specialist programme unit.

Over 130 jobs will go in the division which produces programmes like Omnibus and The Blue Planet. At ITN 100 jobs are being cut as the price for the company undercutting the bid by Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB to provide a news service to ITV.

Top of the fat cat league

The fat cats who are doling out job and pay cuts are raking it in like never before. BT's Sir Peter Bonfield laid claim last week to the title of fattest of the fat cats. He stands to grab a package worth up to £2.8 million in the next three years, and up to £14 million in all, after he quit as BT chief executive. He will get this despite his abysmal record. BT shares have plunged in value over the last two years, and the company has a huge debt mountain. Bonfield won't give a damn about that, or whether the crisis at BT will mean more workers sacked.

He is going to get a £615,000 performance bonus plus £350,000 pension top-up and, through a complicated series of perfectly legal share scams, stands to pocket millions more.

Bonfield may be the king of the fat cats, but he is only heading a pack who are gorging themselves with cash. A new survey by the Incomes Data Services firm found last week that Britain's bosses' pay soared by 18.3 percent last year to an average £960,000. The pay increase of bosses at the top 100 firms was £148,500. Britain's bosses are now getting an average of 150 times what their workers make.

One in four executives grabbed pay rises above 25 percent last year. Topping the chief executives' league is Ken Berry, boss of EMI, who is now on £2,040,800 a year. It would take a worker on the minimum wage over 200 years to earn what Berry gets in a year. In second place is Vodafone boss Chris Gent on £1,069,000, and a close third is GlaxoSmithKline's Sir Richard Sykes on £1,034,000.

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Sat 10 Nov 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1774
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