Along with most Christchurch people, if this morning’s letters to the editor are any indication, I am appalled by their city council’s decision to give its CEO Tony Marryatt a 15% pay rise to well over $500,000.
I won’t argue the merits of his salary in his particular setting, apart from agreeing with sentiments in the scores of letters which filled the opinion pages of The Press. So many people in that quake-broken city are hanging on by a thread, financially and emotionally, and the rest of the country is being reminded ad nauseum of the need for restraint in wage expectations and government spending.
This decision is an insult to all except the upper clique of officials and corporate bosses who increasingly are losing contact with the rest of the population.
Executive salaries have bothered me for years. I’ve tried to keep an open mind, aware of the arguments of supporters generally along the lines of (a) you have to pay what the market demands, and (b) you suffer from wealth envy. But it just doesn’t wash.
1. The “market demand” argument is run by the people who benefit most from it. The “market” for senior executives is small and created by the senior execs themselves. They maintain it by bidding each other up. Each new position is filled by someone who is already in the clique but who demands or expects more money. The whole thing must be unsustainable – you just cannot keep bidding up the rewards at a rate faster than the underlying rate of economic growth without the system ultimately falling apart through its own illogicality or a rebellion by “the masses”.
2. That so-called market is rarely tested. With most workers, excessive wage demands lose you the job. The labour market works pretty efficiently, be it fairly or because of ruthless control from the bosses. But when hiring a new senior executive no-one seems to have the guts to say, we can get someone else if you demand too high a salary. There really is no effective market for the top dogs, so they cannot justify it through “market forces”.
3. One would like to believe that quality senior executives would see job satisfaction, their leadership status and the knowledge that they are useful as part of the reason they take on such positions, not just the pay. Many people do outstanding work of great benefit to society without the motivation of being paid an obscene fortune to do it.
4. In Christchurch in particular, the recovery process is clearly reliant on many people in leadership positions going the extra mile without expecting big money in return. That’s how the city will rebuild. It’s insulting and depressing to the ordinary people who are making this extra effort that their leaders are seen to be doing it mainly for the money.
5. In Marryatt’s case, it has long been known that he desperately wanted the job anyway. He and his supporters reportedly fought tooth and nail to retain his position. It’s not as if the council needed to give him a big pay rise to keep him.