Whingeing fat cats should "shut up or ship out"

Sep 08 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

On the eve of the annual TUC Congress in Brighton, Union leaders have launched a series of attacks on 'whingeing' fat cat executives and excessive working hours

Kevin Curran, recently elected leader of the giant GMB union, said that company bosses who complain about high taxation and employment legislation should "shut up or ship out" of the UK.

"Unfortunately a lot of people in the top ranks of industry are non-performers," he said. "They should shut up or ship out and the sooner they go the better."

Rather than "whingeing and whining" about industry's inability to compete with continental Europe and "lining their wallets", the UK's bosses should be prepared to invest in the UK and protect their workforces, Mr Curran continued.

CBI director-general, Digby Jones, came in for particular criticism. “We have been a constructive presence for 150 years and we still have to tolerate the ignorant ranting of people like Digby Jones,” Curran said.

"Our members are sick to the back teeth of people like him criticising British industry and the people working in it."

For his part, Mr Jones called Mr Curran "extraordinarily naive" and said that unions should be "bending over backwards" to keep jobs and investment in the UK "rather than inviting in the unemployment that blights a Europe mired in regulation". He said it was obvious in the global economy that people had "plenty of options when it comes to where they create jobs".

Earlier, the TUC re-opened the argument about the UK's long working hours, claiming that 350,000 people had been given no choice about opting out of the European Working Time Directive.

Of the 2,000 people polled by the TUC, one in four said that they had been forced to sign a waiver exempting them from the European rule - and had not been given any choice by their employer.

The poll also suggested that two-thirds of the five million people working more than 48 hours a week had not even signed the opt-out, something that is against European law.

The civil service union, PCS also published a poll showing that almost half of workers regularly felt under pressure to work longer hours and that one in three felt pressurised 'always' or 'often'.

The new TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, accused employers of keeping staff in the dark about EU laws which give them the right to limit the working week to 48 hours or voluntarily opt out.

"We are declaring war on Britain's long-hours culture," he said. "We work the longest hours in Europe, yet other countries are more productive and earn more."

He described the UK's long-hours culture as "a symptom of something sick about our workplaces. Long hours are a symptom of badly organised, unproductive workplaces and an easy way out for too many incompetent managers," he added.

But as the TUC launched a 'working time hotline' as part of its campaign to uncover the real extent of working time issues, a spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said that ending the opt-out would limit people’s abilities to earn extra money. The CBI also disputed the TUC's figures, pointing out that the number of people working over 48 hours a week has actually fallen every year since 1999.

"Removing the opt-out to the working time directive would stop thousands of people working overtime and remove a vital flexibility for employers," said Digby Jones.

"What gives the TUC the right to interfere with the freedom of choice of the individual in the vastly different world of work of the 21st century."