By Business editor Peter Ryan
The head of Qantas has become the latest chief executive to succumb to investor pressure by deciding not to accept a bonus this year.
The airline has confirmed that Alan Joyce will not be receiving a bonus when the company announces its profit results later this week.
Mr Joyce joins Marius Kloppers of BHP Billiton, Tom Albanese of Rio Tinto and Paul O'Malley of BlueScope Steel in forgoing big bonuses in the face of declining fortunes for their shareholders.
The body representing many small investors wants CEOs to go further and take actual pay cuts.
"In the current reporting season, where the companies haven't achieved their targets and the executives really haven't really achieved their results for shareholders, then they must certainly hand back their bonuses," said the Australian Shareholders Association's chief executive Vas Kolessnikoff.
Listen to the interview with Vas Kolessnikoff broadcast on AM.
"I suspect the issue, however, is bigger than just handing back bonuses. It's more the fact that the contracts allow the bonuses to be paid in the first place when the results haven't been achieved for shareholders."
Mr Kolessnikoff says the non-payment on bonuses should not depend on an expression of goodwill by the executives and the board, but be automatic when the performance standards for the bonus have not been met.
"Last year, there were a number of chief executives who received bonuses or incentive payments when the companies lost money or underperformed and share prices went through the floor," he observed.
"These things this year are pretty much the same, and these shareholders haven't achieved the results and the executives this year are handing back the bonuses. I think it's a short term thing."
Mr Koslessnikoff says his members expect executive base pay rates to more closely reflect both the size and performance of the relevant business.
"One of my favourite sayings is, if you turn a big business into a small business, you should cut the excesses all the way back to small business rates," he added.
"So we've seen a lot of companies this year where boards and executives have cut their bonuses but they haven't really cut their pays and, the question is, what happens next year?"
Mr Kolessnikoff says the recent track record of board and executive remuneration does not bode well for future restraint.
"One thing that we've seen across the board over the last 10 years is board and executive remuneration really go completely through the roof and out-of-step with the rest of society," he observed.
"We saw the chairman of Rio, Jan du Plessis, make the comment that executive remuneration has got out of hand and not really producing results for shareholders. That, I think, is a very poignant comment."
However, the Shareholders Association is still not keen to see the government step in to limit executive pay.
"You don't want to see governments regulating pays. It's something that you want to see the market regulate, and you want to see the boards and executives do the right thing," he said.
"I suspect that if, over time, this is not to be seen that there will become increasing pressure for governments to do something."
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