Union takes stand on 'fat cats'

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Union "fat cats" who stand to receive huge severance packages worth up to pounds 500,000 are facing a grass-roots revolt.

Two senior Irish officials have left the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical union and are urging thousands of members to follow them, while left-wingers are urging activists to set up "democracy committees" against the leadership.

Concern over the stewardship of the union has mounted since the Independent revealed the unprecedented early retirement packages. Members of the ruling executive have since placed a "gagging order" on Davey Hall, the union's newly elected president and the only member of the executive not to be covered by the deal.

Activists are furious that a democratically elected president with a 24,000-vote majority has been prevented from speaking about the severance deal.

The latest issue of the Engineering Gazette, a journal produced by left- wingers at the AEEU argues that the union is being "fractured beyond repair" and urges members to fight against "petty dictatorship".

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

The deal was worked out to reduce the council from 22 members to nine following the merger of the electricians' and engineers' unions four years ago. It is now down to 13.

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

The article in the Gazette attacks the right-wing majority on the executive for blocking elections until the executive is reduced to the target level of nine. Left-wingers from the old engineering union argue that the tactics will give the right-wing electrical section an "overwhelming" majority.

An AEEU spokesman said the union did not comment on internal matters.