Union chief is gagged over `fat cat' deals

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The Independent Online
Union "fat cats" who stand to receive huge severance payments worth up to pounds 500,000 have issued an order that their senior colleagues must keep quiet about the controversy.

The ruling executive of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, which awarded themselves the "golden goodbyes", has instructed Davey Hall, the union's newly-elected president, not to speak to the press about the severance package. He is the only member of the powerful national committee who will not benefit from the arrangement.

While Mr Hall yesterday refused to comment on the gagging order, sources close to the union said the AEEU's members would be furious that a democratically-elected president with a 24,000-vote majority had been prevented from speaking. The severance deal, revealed on Monday by the Independent, has led to growing concern among members of all shades of political opinion about the leadership of the union. The latest issue of the Engineering Gazette, a journal produced by left-wing AEEU activists, argues that the union is being "fractured beyond repair".

Under the early retirement package agreed two years ago, the pounds 40,000- a-year executive members can opt to leave the union 10 years early on the equivalent of full pay. On leaving they would also receive lump sums of up to pounds 50,000 and be allowed to keep their BMW and Rover cars, worth more than pounds 20,000. At 65 they would draw a full pension.

The deal was worked out to reduce the executive council from 22 members to nine, following the merger of the engineers' and electricians' unions to form the AEEU four years ago. The executive has so far been reduced to 13 with Sir Gavin Laird, former general secretary, among the beneficiaries of the retirement terms.

Ken Jackson, the union's right-wing general secretary and one of the executive members who could opt to take early retirement, has said that details of the arrangements would be disclosed in the annual report which is due to be published soon.

While leftist elements in the union are the most vociferous critics of the "hampers" - as they are known by executive members - both left and right-wingers on the ruling council stand to benefit.

Jimmy Airlie, a left-winger who is expected to retire later this year when he is 60, will be the first executive member to face activists following the revelations. Mr Airlie is due to address shop stewards from the shipbuilding industry who are meeting today and tomorrow in Tynemouth.