CEOs take bonuses as staff stood down, sacked



Queensland executives have earned millions of dollars in dividends and benefits despite pledges to take a pay cut as thousands of staff were stood down or put out of work amid the COVID crisis.

An investigation of the latest company reports reveals just how much Queensland CEOs have earned as their companies were struggling through COVID-19 and accessing the Federal Government's JobKeeper payment.

While the fixed salaries of some dipped slightly as they took pay cuts for the last couple of months of the financial year, company reports reveal many made up for it with share allocations and other bonuses.

According to Star Entertainment Group CEO Matt Bekier's salary fell to $1.5m, down from $1.7m in the prior period.

Reports indicate, however, he has been granted a bonus of $829,872 in shares, which are redeemable after 12 months.

The report states Mr Bekier's 40 per cent salary cut was limited to the final three months of the financial year.

It is understood the bonus relates to Mr Bekier achieving "strategic goals".

Star Entertainment Group took about $64.8m in JobKeeper in the 2019-20 financial year and stood down 90 per cent of its 9000 employees at the height of the pandemic.

"We are also confronting, like the rest of society, an unprecedented challenge in the COVID-19 situation," Mr Bekier said on March 25.

Star Entertainment Group CEO Matt Bekier. Picture: Justin Lloyd
Star Entertainment Group CEO Matt Bekier. Picture: Justin Lloyd

In April veteran jewellery chain Michael Hill announced a leaner operating model and said executives had agreed to a 20 per cent cut in remuneration and bonuses would be zero for the second half of the financial year.

It also stood down staff across Australia as stores were shut and said it secured rent relief from landlords.

In July it announced redundancies at its Brisbane headquarters.

According to reports released in August, CEO Daniel Bracken's total remuneration hit $1.091m made up of $905,000 in salary and a $134,000 cash bonus as well as other benefits.

The company said it received about $12m in JobKeeper for the year and the bonus was paid before COVID hit.

Down on the Gold Coast theme park operator Village Roadshow earlier this year said it would cut costs following the closure of the three parks, Paradise Country, cinemas and Top Golf in March.

It announced that senior executive salaries would be reduced by an unspecified amount and bonuses set to zero for the financial year as about 5000 workers were stood down.

Village Roadshow CEO Clark Kirby (right) pictured with State Development Minister Kate Jones. Picture: Nigel Hallett
Village Roadshow CEO Clark Kirby (right) pictured with State Development Minister Kate Jones. Picture: Nigel Hallett

Company records released in August show CEO Clark Kirby's recorded a slight increase in his remuneration in the year he took on the top job at the company.

Mr Kirby's salary fell by about $83,000 to $908,765 in the financial year, but with other benefits his total annual remuneration hit $1.03m at a time when Village Roadshow took $42m in JobKeeper payments.

Some companies also provided dividends to shareholders despite relying on the federal government to cover a portion of workers' wages.

Griffith University Business School lecturer Harsha Sarvaiya said executive pay was an ethical and corporate governance issue.

"CEOs are responsible for the company's performance … but there needs to be fair pay," she said.

"It's definitely unfair when thousands of employees are losing their jobs.

"You've got to think about the times.

"In order to be a good corporate citizen you should look after people who are struggling … it would be a good gesture." 

Townsville-based dental giant 1300 Smiles received $2m in JobKeeper and paid $3m to shareholders through dividends.

Owner of 1300 Smiles, Daryl Holmes. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Owner of 1300 Smiles, Daryl Holmes. Picture: Zak Simmonds

The 14.71m shares owned by Managing Director Daryl Holmes, about two thirds of the company, will net him about $2m in dividends.

A spokesman for 1300 Smiles said it was "grateful" JobKeeper helped the company keep on about 200 employees.

"We strongly object to how the use of JobKeeper funds by 1300 Smiles and other companies has been characterised," he said.

"The dividend in question relates to the company's financial performance to June 2020.

"The company has financial obligations to its shareholders, which include many self-funded retirees and mum and dad shareholders who depend on dividend income."

SeaLink Travel Group, which operates the Brisbane City Council and North Stradbroke Island ferries, paid shareholders $18.9m in dividends despite taking $8.6m in JobKeeper payments.

SeaLink's CEO Clinton Feuerherdt also received a $504,000 short-term bonus.

Flight Centre Travel Group executives pledged to take a 50 per cent pay cut for the final quarter, which resulted in the salary paid to Managing Director Graham Turner falling $75,000.






Originally published as CEOs take bonuses as staff stood down, sacked