Meet the union boss who's paid so much he's lost count
CWU chief Billy Hayes talks to Asa Bennett about Saturday’s march, the Coalition, and his £133k-a-year job
Honestly, I was gobsmacked.
When the average full-timer British worker makes £26,200 per year and Communication Workers Union general secretary Billy Hayes earns a reported £97,000 salary, it seems like an obvious question: how can Hayes justify his whopping salary?
“It’s not £97,000”, he blathers. Er, so how much exactly? “Off the top of my head, I’d have to look it up.”
Apparently Hayes is the only man in Britain who has no idea what he is paid.
I try to prompt him – is it higher than the reported £97,000?
He ums and ahs… “I don’t think so”, and then bullishly adds - “I don’t apologise for my salary, it’s what the members of our union decided.”
Tempers start to flare as I bring up the fact that Hayes, at the helm of the union, could be earning at least five times more than a newbie postal worker.
“Yeah? I’ll have to see the reports,” he shoots back.
So I decide to help him, by quoting one report that a postal worker starts off on £16,268, while Hayes enjoys a phantom salary clearly many, many times larger.
Hayes rushes to point out that his union represents “some of the highest paid people in Britain, and I make no apologies for that”. The highest paid people in Britain incidentally, Hayes says, are those on a salary from “£50-60 grand”.
However, Hayes remembers exactly why his salary is justified, as “my salary was agreed before I took office, it’s in keeping with any other general secretary”.
Hayes recalls that in one year, he passed over on a pay rise - but “it was in 2004/05, it might have been 05/06 but I think it was 04/05”.
And he lets slip that the pay ratio betwen the lowest and highest paid members (with him at the top) for his union is 1:8.
But Hayes’ defence for his salary is clear: “It’s not determined by me,” he pleads. He enigmatically adds that “I understand the salary I’m on is good pay”.
“Until I was 40 years old, I was on a postman’s pay, I had a say in determining the rate of pay for postal workers, but I have no say in what my salary is,” he adds.
Then again, he does have to manage one of the larger unions, with 205,000 people from communications industries (like Royal Mail, BT, Orange and Virgin Media).
Hayes is very much a Labour heavyweight. Born in Liverpool, he became a postman in 1974 and joined the Labour party at the age of 23. He even found his wife through union activism, while she was an official at BT.
(The pair celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary in 2009 as any couple would: a romantic night out at a Labour party conference fringe meeting in Brighton.)
So how does Hayes feel about his pay package trumping - many times over - the levels of junior postal workers?
At this point, Hayes leaps onto the front foot – barraging me with questions:
“What is your comparison? Are you saying that you should be paid the salary of the people you represent? What’s your determinant on the salary?”
There’s no magic comparison, I reply, just the average wage.
He ploughs on – “So what’s your salary? What’s your salary?”
Hang on, I counter, my salary is irrelevant. I’m not head of a trade union (as far as I’m aware)…!
Still Hayes is not satisfied. “It’s not irrelevant, you just asked me mine and I’m asking me yours,” he continues. This is starting to turn into a Carry On-style “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours” farce.
Hayes launches himself at my previous questions: “Your point to me was this – what is your salary? Without looking at my payslip, I don’t know, I don’t know – but it’s a good pay”.
I decide to show Hayes that not everyone is as foggy about their salary, revealing mine is an unsurprising journalist level wage and at the national average. Why does he deserve to get more than five times that?
Hayes snaps, “I didn’t determine my salary, alright?” I’m reminded that Hayes’ salary was determined by other people and, as he says, “I have no say in my salary. I didn’t say I wanted to be paid this”.
Dear reader, I’m afraid to admit I was wrong, after all. I was, in fact, far too low in my initial estimate.
According to documents submitted by the CWU, Hayes last year enjoyed a bumper £133,732.88 remuneration package – thanks to a £90,000 gross salary and thousands more in “benefits” (like pensions and, apparently, a car).
A nice package if you can get it.
But Conservative MPs reading this and dusting off their latest press release against “union fat cats” should hold fire! Hayes wants you to be better paid, too.
MPs’ salaries could surge as high as £92,000, something our union baron is intensely relaxed about.
“That kind of thing doesn’t excite me,” he says. Hayes believes MPs should be paid a “decent salary” and have “legitimate expenses” so that Parliament can be “accessible for ordinary people”.
“There is a great danger in holding back on salaries for MPs in that you’d end up only with rich people wanting to become MPs. MPs are probably underpaid, they should be paid a better pay,” he adds.
Hayes is far more excited about fighting for the CWU and the upcoming “March for an Alternative” on Saturday, which he and the CWU will be fully supporting.
“We want to fight for the regeneration of Britain, we want to see growth in the economy, we want to see our country get back on its feet” he explains.
Fine rhetoric aside, what does he think of the government’s economic management?
In short? Hayes describes it as “pretty awful”, “terrible” and “pretty dire”.
Hayes lays out the stark state of affairs.
“The government is borrowing now £9bn more than it said it would. Osborne has failed by his own measures. A million young people are on the dole. It’s great that Cameron has given a vote for the Scottish referendum, but what about giving jobs for young people and 16 year olds?
“There is no evidence, historically or internationally, that you can cut your way out a recession.”
“Obviously you have to take account of inflation,” he offers. After being assured that it does, Hayes continues:
“Well okay, you’ve got the welfare budget – and I haven’t got the figures in front of me – but he’s got £9bn more in cuts.”
Osborne’s problem, I’m told, is that he’s “putting the squeeze on demand”.
Obviously one of Osborne’s arch critics is shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who warned in a speech at Bloomberg HQ of an economic “perfect storm”.
Hayes is very cheery about Balls. He threw his weight (and the CWU’s) behind him to be Labour leader – Ed Miliband was a close second.
“Balls needs to do a Bloomberg II - after all it was Ed who has been proved right on the economy all along.”
Osborne aside, Hayes has a bone to pick with the Coalition’s rhetoric as a whole. The Coalition, Hayes argues, is “dividing society” and “trying to turn people against the state”.
“Their idea seems very much to me like the UK version of the Tea Party” he adds, referring to the Taxed Enough Already movement in the United States.
He summarises the government’s approach in a poetic manner, by quoting the Bible (Matthew 24:12, if you’re wondering) – “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold”).
The Coalition’s open goal for Hayes is naturally chief whip Andrew Mitchell’s sweary altercation with officers at the Downing Street gates, and Hayes goes for it.
“Anyone who calls a police officer a pleb obviously has a bit of snobbery,” he laments. Hayes makes clear that he doesn’t think “everyone” in the government is a snob, but happily dismisses the group as a “government of millionaires”.
“There are people in this government who could give a pound to every unemployed young person in Britain and not be out of change.”
You can take it as a given that Hayes would think the government is out of touch.
“The government is struggling to understand the plight of millions. George Osborne has never had to worry about buying a pint of milk,” he tells me.
So finally, what would he say is the message he wants to drive home for the government in Saturday’s march? Hayes is clear about the need for optimism:
“They are failing to give people hope, right? When you lose hope, you get despair, and when you get despair, you get discord. The government needs to give people hope.”