No 78 Fat cats

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"SHUT up or ship out" were the words used by TUC general secretary Brendan Barber on the eve of this year’s annual TUC congress.

They might be uncomfortable under the glare of the spotlight, but fat cats are not a new phenomenon. The phrase first emerged following the First World War as a general description of those who had done well financially from the war. In 1928 American writer Frank R Kent used it in his book Political Behaviour, to describe rich contributors to political campaigns. It also brings to mind another phrase: "the cat that got the cream". Research from Mercer Human Resource Consulting revealed that a typical FTSE 100 chief executive made more than 2 million last year. Regardless of low pay increases in the economy at large, top execs were earning an average basic salary of 600,000, bonus of 400,000, pension benefits of 450,000 and longterm incentives valued at 550,000.

Ill-feeling has led to numerous colourful outbursts at companies’ annual shareholder meetings. When the world’s third-largest retailer, Ahold, held its annual meeting last week, shareholders were led in to the theme from The Sound of Music. But when the salary and bonus for new chief exec Anders Moberg was announced (up to 10m dependant on performance), the news was met with boos.

At the top of the pay pile is Brian Gilbertson, former chief executive of mining company BHP Billiton, who pocketed a basic salary of 798,842, rising to 9.1m after bonuses and benefits. When he left the company his farewell deal was worth 16m. In fact, according to research last month, ten execs were paid more than 1m after being fired or leaving their jobs, proving that for fat cats, failure can be rewarded almost as well as success.

It’s hard to work up anything but envy for the fat cats, but in some cases sympathy is what they’re after. The Priory clinic in south west London this summer reported a stream of high-fliers who were checking in suffering from BAD - Bonus Anxiety Disorder. Apparently caused by fears that their bonuses won’t be enough to fund their lifestyles, symptoms of BAD include loss of appetite, sleeplessness and difficulty with concentration. If the TUC’s Brendan Barber gets his way, a BAD epidemic may be imminent.