Recession What Recession?

What recession? A few pockets haven’t felt warmer…
Businessman’s Pockets Filled with Money

recession what recession?While the economy is still struggling to come to grips with the severe recession that hit the UK in 2007-08, real wages for most workers have declined. But the average pay package among the UK’s top executives increased by £500,000 in the past financial year, according to a report by employment consultancy Hewitt New Bridge Street.

The report says that the pay hike was partly due to weak targets set for the bosses but primarily due to an “improvement in economic conditions”. At the same time, wages of a third of the employees of blue chip companies still remain static since the 2009 wage freeze for 60% of the workforce.

I’m sure that the workers of many of these companies would like to know why gains from these improved conditions could not be shared with them, at a time when reduced purchasing power is having a major impact on consumer confidence.

Pay for performance?
Executive pay over the last two years has risen on average by 5% despite a 1% fall in share prices over the same period. In fact, in the last ten years the salary packages for executives in the FTSE 100 companies have quadrupled while share prices have declined showing no relation of their pay to a key performance indicator.

Why such massive pay increases then?
CEO pay packages at top firms are set by a board of directors which often comprises of executives from other similar companies. The CEOs in question may be serving or are likely to serve on other companies’ boards performing a similar function. It is a small circle where “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” is an indulging self-serving game. Also, the compensation is recommended by consultancy firms who try to match what is offered by other companies. Most importantly though, the consultancy firms are hired by the same elite group and the consultants have every reason not to upset their paymasters.

Why do shareholders not object?
Some shareholders do object. Just recently, 47% of the largest supermarket Tesco’s shareholders revolted against boardroom pay at their annual meeting, and it was not the only instance this year. However, in many cases where large shareholders like banks, pension and mutual funds are involved, they may not object since their own executives would not like to draw attention to their high salary packages. In any case, shareholder objections in most cases are not binding on the board of directors and cannot overturn directors’ decisions on compensation plans.

Surely, some CEOs deserve their million pounds annual compensation packages?
I would not question the absolute figures but if the executives are paid 100s of times relative to the average worker, it certainly seems obscene and excessive.

Let’s say that the profits of a company double under a CEO. Should all the credit go to the CEO alone? What of other workers who must have contributed to the growth? What about suitable market conditions playing a role? What if the growth in profits relative to the previous term were only an indication of the poor performance by the previous executive?

Leadership matters immensely but so does the contribution of those who are led. There’s no easy way to numerically compare a CEOs talent and contribution compared to the rest of the workforce. But a fair society and a fair economic system would recognise the contribution of all workers in the economy and not tolerate the grotesque levels of income and wealth inequality that are prevalent today.

Years of research show significant social costs of excessive inequality. And the latest report on inequality shows that the UK is now one of the most unequal among the economically developed countries.

While some inequality may be justified to provide incentives for performance and create efficiencies in the economy, maximum wage level must be tied to a reasonable proportion of the minimum wage, say 10-20 times, to ensure that the gains of economic growth are distributed fairly across the population.

Otherwise we have an absurd system where “to make the rich work harder you pay them more, to make the poor work harder you pay them less – or so it seems,” in the words of Billy Hayes, the general secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union.

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