The cleaner, the chairman and the £2m differential

Click to follow
The Independent Online

They may work in the same office, but they inhabit worlds in vastly different orbits.

Abdul Durrant, 44, who has five children, earns £5 an hour as a cleaner at HSBC's gleaming new tower in London's Docklands. Sir John Bond, chairman of the bank's board, took home a total of £1.88m in the past 12 months and saw his pension pot increase by £272,000 into the bargain.

But yesterday he was forced to listen to the "invisible man" who cleans at the bank that made £6.42bn last year. Mr Durrant spoke up at HSBC's annual general meeting in London, telling the 22-strong board, who were all wearing matching HSBC ties: "I am a bit nervous as I have never been in the company of so many big shots. I don't operate a computer, I operate a mop and a bucket. I am supposed to stay invisible, working overnight. I receive £5 an hour. I do not get a pension and there is only a measly sick pay scheme.

"My children go to school without a proper lunch, they cannot go on school trips - I am unable to provide them with all that they need. I am asking you for a living wage, so that I and my colleagues can have the same dignity as ordinary people."

Mr Durrant earns £200 a week, that is £10,400 a year, working for the company OCS, which is contracted by the bank to clean its new head office in Canary Wharf.

Sir John issued Mr Durrant with an invitation yesterday to come to his office when his late-night cleaning shift begins. "I am very often in the office until 9pm and would be happy to talk with you again," Sir John said.

He told Mr Durrant that he "was very sympathetic" to his cause but that he was obliged to find the best deal for his company. He added: "I am under pressure to run this business as competitively as I can for shareholders. I cannot dictate to our contractors what they pay their workers."

Shareholders gave Mr Durrant a round of rousing applause, with one of them asking how much it would hurt the company's multibillion-pound profits to pay its cleaners an extra £1 an hour.

Sir John came under further fire yesterday for asking shareholders to approve a $37.5m (£23m) three-year pay packet to William Aldinger, head of the US company Household International, which HSBC bought earlier this year. The package includes life-long free medical and dental care for Mr Aldinger and his wife.

The plight of Mr Durrant was used by shareholders to protest at the boardroom excess represented by Mr Aldinger's pay. "The pay packets of the US have no place in Britain," said one shareholder. "We have seen many companies destroyed by corporate greed and we don't want that to happen in the UK." Another said that Mr Aldinger's pay was "unacceptable" and "beyond all common sense".

More than a quarter of shareholders abstained or voted against supporting the pay awards to the company's directors and nearly a fifth voted against or abstained from electing Mr Aldinger on to the board. This ranks as one of the largest shareholder revolts in recent weeks, although it still fell well short of the rebellion at GlaxoSmithKline that voted down J P Garnier's pay package. Sir John defended Mr Aldinger's pay packet, saying the company had to pay the going rate for executives in each country. Directors in America were paid much more than in Britain. "And many of our staff elsewhere in the world wish they could be paid as well as people in the UK," Sir John said.