The top-paid CEOs across four countries enjoyed a 9 per cent pay hike in 2022, while workers’ wages fell 3.19 per cent during the same period, reveals a new analysis from Oxfam ahead of International Workers’ Day. 150 of the top-paid executives in India received $1 million on average last year, a real-term pay rise of 2 per cent since 2021. The amount a single Indian executive gets paid for four hours of work is equal to what an average worker earns in a year. 

The figures, adjusted for inflation, are based on the latest data from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and government statistics agencies. 

One billion workers in 50 countries took an average pay cut of $685 in 2022, a collective loss of $746 billion in real wages, compared to if wages had kept up with inflation. 

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Women and girls are putting in at least 380 billion hours of unpaid care work every month. Women workers often have to work reduced paid hours or drop out of the workforce altogether because of their unpaid care workload. They also continue to face gender-based discrimination, harassment, and less pay for work of equal value as men. 

While corporate bosses are telling us we need to keep wages down, they’re giving themselves and their shareholders massive payouts, said Oxfam International’s interim Executive Director Amitabh Behar. He added, “Most people are working longer for less and can’t keep up with the cost of living. Years of austerity and attacks on trade unions have widened the gap between the richest and the rest of us. On a day meant to celebrate the working class, this glaring inequality is both shocking and sadly unsurprising.”

“The only rise workers have seen is that of unpaid care work, with women shouldering the responsibility,” Behar said. “This incredibly hard and valuable work is done for free at home and in the community.” 

Shareholder dividends meanwhile hit a record $1.56 trillion in 2022, a 10 per cent real-term growth compared to 2021. US corporations paid out $574 billion to their shareholders, more than double US workers’ total real wage pay cut. Brazilian shareholders received $34 billion, just shy of what the country’s workers lost in real wages. 

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Exorbitant shareholder payouts benefit the richest in society, exacerbating already high levels of inequality. The wealthiest 1 per cent of South Africans own more than 95 per cent of bonds and corporate shares, while the richest 0.01 per cent own 62.7 per cent. In the US, the richest 1 per cent holds 54 per cent of shares held by US households.  

However, taxes on income from dividends and shares, which help to fund public services like healthcare and education, have continued to fall, down from 61 per cent in 1980 to just 42 per cent today. 

“Workers are tired of being treated like sacrificial lambs every time a crisis hits. Neoliberal logic blames inflation on everyone except profiteering corporations. Governments should stop relying only on interest rate hikes and austerity that we know hurts ordinary people, particularly those living in poverty. Instead, they should introduce top rates of tax of at least 75 per cent on super-rich corporate bosses to discourage sky-high executive pay, and windfall taxes on excessive corporate profits. They must also ensure minimum wages keep up with inflation, and that everyone has the right to unionise, strike, and bargain collectively,” said Behar.