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Anne-Marie Walshe: Paid-up member's query deserves answer

WHY all the secrecy?

Union leaders are always among the first to criticise if they get a whiff of any lack of transparency or accountability, be it among bankers or billionaire bosses.

Their outrage at pay rises at the zombie institution Anglo Irish Bank springs to mind and recent revelations about the wages of Aer Lingus boss Christoph Mueller.

And yet trying to find out what some of them are paid is like trying to get blood out of a stone.

This may have been okay when wages were constantly rising -- in which it has to be said, they played no small role -- and it simply did not matter too much to anyone.

But now when everything has gone belly-up, and half of us cannot pay our bills and the other half are cutting down on 'extras' like health insurance, it does.

Workers may be wondering if they are getting value for their union subs just as much as whether they can afford Sky Sports or Eircom Phonewatch.

This is the case nowhere more so than in the public sector, where wages have taken a hammering.

A pension levy and Budget pay cut has taken 14pc from the average state employee's pay packet.

Not only did the unions fail to protect their members from this, we now find that some have not gone through the same pain even though they are on pay scales directly linked to the public sector.

This was despite constant pleas for solidarity and catchphrases like "sharing the burden".

Admittedly, union bosses are not on the kind of megabucks enjoyed by some CEOs in the private sector and as private entities, they are not obliged to open their books, so to speak.

And the TUI makes the point that it does not want to promote a pay-cutting agenda.

In addition, the unions' income has gone down because subscriptions are based in many cases on a percentage of members' wages.

At the same time, their wages are not paid by the Christoph Muellers of this world, but struggling nurses, teachers and civil servants who may have bought over-priced properties during the boom.

It should be said that some union bosses were not secretive at all about their pay or whether they had taken cuts, including SIPTU's Jack O'Connor or Jimmy Kelly at UNITE. Others would not disclose anything.

This pay survey was prompted by a phonecall to this newspaper.

An IMPACT member rang to tell us she was having great difficulty trying to find out whether those who represent her had taken the same pay cut she had.

Surely it was a valid question that deserved a straight answer.

Irish Independent