The Future is Equal

Top CEOs got a real-term 9% pay rise in 2022 while workers worldwide took a 3% pay cut

  • Workers on average worked six days “for free” last year because their wages lagged behind inflation —while real pay for top executives in India, the UK, US and South Africa jumped 9 percent (16 percent if not adjusted for inflation).
  • Women and girls are putting in 4.6 trillion hours of unpaid care work every year.
  • Shareholders saw record payouts of US$1.56 trillion in 2022, a 10 percent real-term increase compared to 2021.
  • Oxfam is calling for a permanent increase in taxes on the richest 1 percent.

 The top-paid CEOs across four countries enjoyed a 9 percent pay hike in 2022, while workers’ wages fell 3.19 percent during the same period, reveals new analysis from Oxfam ahead of International Workers’ Day (1 May).

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

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

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. 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,” said Oxfam International’s interim Executive Director Amitabh Behar.

“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.”

Brazilian workers’ real wages fell 6.9 percent (equivalent to 15 unpaid working days) last year, while in the US and the UK, the average worker took a real terms pay cut of 3.2 percent (6.7 unpaid working days) and 2.5 percent (5 unpaid working days), respectively.

Big business chiefs, however, are thriving. Oxfam’s analysis of corporate and survey data for 2022 found that:

  • 150 of the top-paid executives in India received US$1 million on average last year, a real-term pay rise of 2 percent since 2021. A single Indian executive makes in just four hours more than an average worker earns in a year.
  • 100 of the highest-paid CEOs in the US made US$24 million on average in 2022, a real-term pay hike of 15 percent from the previous year. The average worker in the US would have to work for 413 years to match what a top-paid CEO makes in 12 months. 50 percent of women of color in the US make less than US$15 an hour.
  • The UK’s 100 best-paid CEOs were paid US$5 million on average in 2022 and received a 4.4 percent real-term pay hike. They earn 140 times more than the average worker in the UK.
  • Top-paid chief executives in South Africa made US$800,000 on average in 2022, 43 times the pay of the average worker. Their real term pay rose 13 percent last year.

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

Exorbitant shareholder payouts benefit the richest in society, exacerbating already high levels of inequality. The wealthiest 1 percent of South Africans own more than 95 percent of bonds and corporate shares, while the richest 0.01 percent own 62.7 percent. In the US, the richest 1 percent hold 54 percent 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 percent in 1980 to just 42 percent 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 percent 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.


Notes for editors

Download Oxfam’s methodology note and dataset.

May Day, celebrated by workers across the globe as International Workers’ Day, falls on May 1.

Download Oxfam’s report “Survival of the Richest” for more information about taxing the super-rich to fight inequality. Oxfam recommends introducing top rates of tax (marginal rates) of at least 75 percent on all personal income for the highest earners (e.g., for those making US$5 million a year, or the top 0.1%) to discourage sky-high executive pay.

According to Oxfam America’s report “The crisis of low wages in the US”, nearly a third of all workers in the US earn under US$15 an hour.

The Janus Henderson Global Dividend Index publishes data on annual dividends by country.

According to the United Nations University, the top 1 percent of South Africans own 95 percent of bonds and corporate shares, while the richest 0.01 percent own 62.7 percent. The US Federal Reserve publishes data on corporate equities and mutual fund shares by wealth percentile group.

Oxfam’s research shows that taxes on incomes from dividends and shares have fallen from 61 percent in 1980 to 42 percent.