More than a third of blue chip companies cut bosses' pay during the pandemic in a show of solidarity with staff facing job losses, furlough and a chaotic future.
A total of 36 firms in the FTSE 100 reduced executives' earnings in response to Covid-19, slashing or deferring their basic salaries and cancelling short-term bonuses. Salaries at 14 firms were cut by 20pc - the same as the reduction for low-earning workers placed on the taxpayer-funded furlough scheme.
Companies are under growing investor pressure to show that executive pay is justified by performance following years of outcry over excess.
The boss of money manager Schroders warned last week that shareholders will take action if directors do not share their wokers' pain during the economic catastrophe triggered by Covid.
Peter Harrison said: “Everyone understands there are some industries that are really suffering, but that should be uniformly felt across the business and not just fall on the lowest.”
It came as new Treasury figures showed that 9.6 million jobs have been furloughed over the course of the crisis at a cost of £33.8bn to the state.
Bosses' pay cuts were concentrated in hard hit industries including retail, hospitality and construction.
But campaigners warned that many of the pandemic cutbacks were temporary, did not affect long-term share awards and did not signal a sea change in firms’ approach to remuneration.
Reductions have already been reversed at many firms, such as house builder Persimmon, estate agent Foxtons and luxury fashion company Burberry.
The figures were compiled by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the High Pay Centre think tank.
Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said: “The bulk of cuts made so far appear to be short-term and don’t signify meaningful, long-term change.
“Pay among the FTSE 100 will probably fall next year, but this is more likely to be due to wider economic circumstances rather than a fundamental change in approach to executive pay.”
The study found that median total pay for FTSE 100 bosses had fallen to £3.6m, its lowest since 2011.