'Never again' pledges union after leader gets £½m handshake

THE head of the UK's biggest trade union has heavily criticised a golden handshake of more than £500,000 paid to one of his predecessors.

Derek Simpson was handed the bumper pay package when he left the post of joint leader of Unite last year. It included a 361,000 severance payment.

However, Len McCluskey, who succeeded Mr Simpson, said the payment was "inappropriate" after a report to a meeting of the union's executive revealed the existence of the payment, which also included almost 100,000 in salary and more than 51,000 in housing benefit and car allowances.

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Members of Unite's executive were yesterday said to be "shocked and angry" at the size of the deal, while Mr McCluskey insisted that there would be no "golden goodbyes" at Unite while he was leader.

Mr Simpson has been accused of "double standards" by a senior MSP and of taking advantage of trade union members.

The size of the payment only came to light at the start of the year, when the financial books of Amicus and the Transport and General Workers Union, which merged to form Unite in 2007, were finally combined.

Mr McCluskey succeeded Mr Simpson and Tony Woodley, who were joint leaders of Unite. Mr Woodley is still employed by the union and did not receive a pay-off, the executive was told.

A statement from Unite yesterday said that the controversial payment to Mr Simpson had been made without the approval of current general secretary, Mr McCluskey, and other union officials.

The statement said: "The procedure leading to this payment was authorised by a meeting of the Amicus general purposes and finance committee in March 2008.

"That meeting, which was not attended by Derek Simpson, resolved that Mr Simpson be treated in the same way as previous joint general secretaries of Amicus, and general secretaries of unions which had merged into Amicus, upon leaving the employment of the union."

The payment was made in December 2010, the statement said. "Neither the current general secretary of Unite, nor the Unite executive council, nor the national executive committee of the Amicus section, were previously advised of the authorisation.

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"The general secretary and executive council of Unite regard this payment as inappropriate. No such arrangement exists in Unite going forward."

Scottish Tory MSP Alex Johnstone criticised the severance package, which he said would anger low-income households.

He said: "It's exactly the kind of pay-off that trade union leaders have been criticising in the private sector. It seems ironic that someone in that position should take such advantage in this way. It's clear that this is a case of double standards and it will cause anger among many hard-pressed households." A Unite source said: "The executive is very concerned that this blast from the past could undermine all we're trying to do to take on the government's spending cuts but are determined not to allow it to blow the union off course."

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