These shamefully high salaries

June 06, 2014 12:27

In principle, I have no objection whatever to sundry Jewish individuals being paid more than me. When I embarked on an academic career I knew that I would never number myself among the high-end earners.

My father, who became a self-employed salesman, never knew from one week to another what his disposable income would be. So what concerned me was that my weekly or monthly income would be predictable, and that there would be a final-salary index-linked pension (a concept my dad could never quite get his head around) to sustain my declining years. And so it is.

But at least I can say that (on the whole) I have had a series of careers that I have enjoyed - teaching, lecturing and writing. My moneyed acquaintances in the worlds of business and commerce tell me they are genuinely envious of this freedom. I am certainly not envious of them.

These autobiographical musings formed the backcloth to my consideration of the JC's recent feature on the salaries of executives working for a range of Anglo-Jewish charitable organisations. I was shocked by what I read. Let me deal first with the clerics among us.

Leaving personalities entirely aside, I simply do not believe it is necessary (let alone wise) for any synagogal body to pay its top cleric a six-figure (let alone a high six-figure) sum by way of annual remuneration.

The rabbis of the Talmud had regular daytime jobs

Let's ignore for now the thorny issue of the rabbinical salary "package" - such as a house, a pension, perhaps even a car - which the figures given by the JC do not reflect.

Let's remember instead that the idea of a rabbinical leader as a full-time salaried position is of very recent origin. The rabbis of the Talmud had regular daytime jobs, as blacksmiths, potters, cobblers, carpenters, charcoal-burners, tailors and the like. Others were goldsmiths, silversmiths and doctors.

Maimonides was a GP. The religious authority of the Clapton Federation Synagogue that I attended as a boy - the universally respected Rabbi Rashbass - was a businessman. His religious duties at the synagogue were strictly part-time, and he once confessed to me that he would have had it no other way.

He also told me why: he was beholden to no one individual or small group of individuals for his daily bread: his home was his own and his first-hand experience of the real world of work enabled him to bring to his rabbinical duties a deep sense of practicality that he would not otherwise have possessed.

Ultimately, I accept that it is for the trustees of any particular charity to determine the remuneration of their top executives. But a charity is just that. It relies on the voluntary generosity of its patrons and donors. It is not a business. Why the Community Security Trust needs to pay its chief executive a salary not far short of £190,000 a year (does that figure include or exclude pension arrangements?) is quite beyond me.

It will be said that salaries need to be "competitive." What does this mean? In the world of academia, the use of executive recruiters has had a predictable effect on the pay of UK vice-chancellors, because recruiters customarily charge a search-fee that is equivalent to the first year's salary of those whom they assist in appointing to these gilded positions.

In the taxpayer-funded HE sector, rank-and-file staff this year have had to accept wage increases of not more than one per cent, while vice-chancellors in the elite "Russell Group" have seen their gross pay rise by an average of over eight per cent.

We now know what the chief executives earn. But what about other employees?

The evidence here is largely anecdotal. Even so, it is hardly reassuring. We do know that while the chief executive of the CST is paid between £170K and £189K, the organisation relies on an army of volunteers paid precisely nothing at all.

More generally, clerical staff within Jewish organisations are, in my experience, paid at a level that borders on the immoral.

To this unedifying picture we have to add the blatant disparities (to which Laura Marks and Norma Brier have drawn attention) between the pay of male and female chief executives - disparities that I suspect are the norm irrespective of seniority.

Sooner or later, someone will have the guts to bring these matters before an employment tribunal. Who could possibly blame them?

June 06, 2014 12:27

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