The speed at which chief executive pay has bounced back from the crisis may not thrill shareholders, but there has at least been some improvement in the way some of the top companies are reporting the information.

The method we use for this survey is to report, where possible, the figure that was paid during the year.

In other words, any bonuses earned during this current year and but paid next financial year will show up in next year's survey.

That's how the information is reported in most annual reports. It is also the way the IRD looks at income and the way the rest of us tend to view an annual salary.

But this can prove problematic when a really good year is followed by a bad one - and vice versa.

Last year, for example, Air New Zealand chief Rob Fyfe appeared to receive a big pay increase, because he was paid bonuses that were earned in the boom time of 2007.

Having that data published just after he had publicly declared he was freezing his pay was confusing.

But his pay freeze is reflected in this year's survey - where Fyfe takes a 52 per cent pay cut.

Air NZ deserves credit this year, not just for showing prudence in tough times, but for greatly improving the way it reports.

With Telecom, The Warehouse, Fletcher Building and Solid Energy, Air NZ now breaks down chief executive remuneration in an easy-to-read format which would meet the standards required by stock markets in Australia and the United States.

Unfortunately our regulations continue to require only that companies report remuneration in anonymous "pay bands" - so in many cases that's all we get.

Sifting through the data is no easy task for our reporters and while there is always plenty of devil in the detail, the survey - now in its fifth year - shows a clear trend.

Though there was a pause in 2008, remuneration for top executives continues to grow faster than for ordinary workers.

It may be that we remain in catch-up mode as local companies increasingly compete internationally for talent.

It may also be that we are catching up with rest of the world in terms of executives' bonus pay. Those payments, related to performance, are the ones that generate the big swings.

As the Shareholders Association points out, that's not such a bad thing as long as bonuses are driving results.

Ultimately it is the responsibility of shareholders to hold their highest-paid employees accountable for that.

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