WHEN I was first starting out in my career in what was at the time still considered the country’s great fourth estate, I used to wonder why it was that journalists were never paid bonuses, when our colleagues in advertising received them every month.
It wasn’t long before it was pointed out to me – rather expressively –that advertising staff were paid such a pittance that the only way they could earn a decent salary was to get a bonus. It was an incentive to get them to reach their targets – and break them.
Journalists’ salaries on the other hand were (way back then) decent and in line with rising living standards. And to be honest I’m not sure an extra payment would ever equal the thrill of getting a splash story.
At that time I didn’t know of many other business where bonuses were paid, except perhaps the building trade when a job was completed before schedule, or in banking when they seemed to be handed out around Christmas.
In fact, bonuses did start off in business as a recognition for success in the previous year, but they were small gestures – perhaps a week’s extra pay – and were mostly given to those at the bottom of the ladder as an incentive to work harder.
Now though that has changed. It’s only those at the top who benefit from bonuses. No matter where you work – private or public sector – if you climb the ladder high enough, excessive bonuses are as matter-of-fact as paying your income tax. Or not.
In the week that David Cameron has talked about a sense of “entitlement” among those on benefits, the reality is that it’s those at the top of the corporate labour market who feel a justified sense of entitlement to demand massive bonuses whether or not they deserve them.
Just this last fortnight it’s become public that directors and staff at the defunct TIE and those at Lothian Buses have had their pockets lined thanks to huge bonuses. TIE, set up to get a tram line running in Edinburgh, paid huge sums on top of huge salaries to its directors – even as they were leaving – for no reason except they were “entitled” because bonuses were written into their contracts of employment. It certainly wasn’t because a job had been done well or, for that matter, at all.
As for Lothian Buses, a quasi- private firm whose shares are all held by the four Lothian councils, paying out hundreds of thousands to its chief executive and other directors is just wrong.
I am sure they work hard, and of course Lothian Buses is a fabulous service. But it is a public one – and it’s not the directors who are daily dealing with the stress of trying to drive around Edinburgh. If bonuses were given to drivers for managing to keep to timetables, few would disagree.
But if you’re already being paid around £160,000 a year (£160,000 a year! Let’s remind ourselves that an average salary is £23,000) why on earth would you need an extra £47,000? When do you have enough? When is what you earn sufficient?
I could understand that in a good, profitable year all staff might be given a bonus but almost an extra third of your salary and just to directors? That is pure greed.
And it’s greed, let’s admit it, which is at the heart of our society’s near financial collapse.
Greed which saw bankers create complex deals which allowed the poorest to buy homes they could never afford to pay for and then gamble with their futures on the markets.
Greed which led people to take out mortgages, loans, and credit cards to buy things they really didn’t need and ultimately couldn’t afford.
Greed which allows people earning large sums to believe it’s okay to avoid paying legitimate tax which should then go to help those less fortunate.
Greed which has resulted in the city’s statutory notice system being subsumed in criminal allegations.
And greed which has seen the council forced to pay out to its female staff as salaries with men doing the same work were not equal.
Not greed on the part of the women – but from the men whose unions did deals to make sure they got more and that they got bonuses on to . . . including for emptying bins.
Excessive bonuses are another example of this greed. We are told that bonuses are about attracting the right people to the big jobs. Nonsense. With big salaries, gold-plated pension schemes, and the perks of free shares, why would anyone need a bonus as well? Sheer greed.
All bonuses do is create a sense of entitlement to money for nothing. Unless you work in sales where they are the only way to hit the average salary, then bonuses should be scrapped. Shareholders too should demand that they are no longer part and parcel of remuneration packages, but have to be rewarded only when something exemplary has been achieved – not just to someone whose done the job they’re paid to do.
Greed has always been one of the seven deadly sins. I am beginning to wonder though if in fact it wasn’t the original one which Adam felt after eating Eve’s proferred apple. He wasn’t suddenly struck by shame but a desire for a bonus if he got the garden tidied before teatime.
Bonuses are a throwback to the 1980s and financial deregulation. No wonder then that it was Gordon Gecko who said greed was good. He has been proved wrong.