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The haves and the have-lots

So, Cristiano is off to Real Madrid then, bringing to an end the long-running ‘is he or isn’t he’ pantomime. Did thoughts of the Spanish sun finally swing it for Ronaldo? Is it the prospect of teaming up with Kaka? Or could it be that he was lured away from Manchester’s unrivalled delights by a pay packet of almost £200,000 a week - that’s about 400 times what a typical nurse will earn in the same period. Of course, salary has never been proportional to social value, worse luck.

Existing on relative chickenfeed is Network Rail’s Chief Executive Iain Coucher who barely scrapes together £10K in seven days. Back in May we were almost deafened by the trumpeting which heralded the announcement that he was forgoing his annual bonus. This was to ensure he could “talk freely about Network Rail’s story of success…without being clouded by controversy.” Pah!

Network Rail directors receive a presentation on how rich they are.
Photo: AndrewK

Turning his back on a £300K lump sum (almost £6K/week) has the hallmarks of a substantial gesture until you realise that Coucher was still pocketing a second handout of around £200,000 for longer term performance, taking his income for the year to a cool £¾million. His senior management colleagues accepted both tranches of their bonus.

According to a Network Rail spokesman, “It’s Iain’s very strong view that a bonus scheme is necessary and is a useful tool that he can’t do without in incentivising all the people that work for him, including the directors.”

I must be missing something here. If someone was paying me £1,000+ every day, I wouldn’t expect to milk a bloated cash cow come July before knuckling down to the task I was already being paid handsomely to perform. How much of an incentive to these people need? “Please sir, I want some more” seems to have become the mantra of today’s have-lots.

“Please sir, I want some more” seems to have become the mantra of today’s have-lots.

But is the wind of change getting up? In June, ‘Rail’ magazine reported the views of Ian Prosser, the ORR’s Safety Director, who believes that Network Rail’s top brass should not receive a bonus in years when trackworkers are killed. This, he said, is what happens in ‘world-class’ companies, something which NR aspires to be. (As things stand, it’s struggling to reach ‘standard-class’ if the ongoing debacle on the West Coast Main Line is anything to go by.)

In the last financial year, three men lost their lives and another 134 sustained major injuries - hardly a record to shout proudly about. Prosser blames NR’s cultural and leadership problems for its failure to address rule breaking; he also criticised communications and engagement between management and staff. Uniquely for an official, this sounds like a guy with at least some insight and common sense.

All these boardroom shenanigans are set against a background of much disgruntlement at messroom level. A ballot of the RMT's 11,000 engineering and administrative members within NR has resulted in a massive (4,094 votes to 151) rejection of the company's latest harmonisation proposals.

Talks have been ongoing for three years but the union has now decided to call time, accusing management of hijacking the process to force through “attacks on working conditions”. The ‘no’ vote means that staff will retain their current T&Cs.

Uncle Bob Crow, in a typically understated contribution, had a swipe at senior management bonuses and went on to say that the “RMT entered discussions on harmonisation three years ago with the intention of securing a positive package acceptable to our members. The failure to achieve this lies with management who, at every stage of the process, have either backtracked, obstructed real progress or vetoed positive agreements made by the negotiators. Enough is enough.”

For those at the frontline, it must leave a sour taste in the mouth to discover that NR’s generals are taking home annual remuneration packages of almost £1million whilst conniving to impose a tougher pay and shift regime on their troops. The pill wouldn’t seem quite so bitter if those suits were paragons of commitment, vigour and competence. But they’re not - at least not without an incentive.

Story added 1st July 2009

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