News - January 17, 2013

Six Wageningen employees earn too much

Relatively few high earners.
Supervisory Board asks directors to exercise pay restraint.

While Wageningen UR consistently heads the notorious list of top earners in education, it comes out rather well when compared with the public sector as a whole. Last week, the government published a list of people in the semi-public sector who earn more than the Balkenende norm. The list contains nearly 2500 people, mainly hospital consultants.
Six of the high earners work for Wageningen UR. In addition to the Executive Board (on 260,000, 273,000 and 346,000 euros) there are two science group directors (194,000 and 220,000 euros) and one Wageningen professor (204,000 euros). The HR department will not reveal their names for privacy reasons.
Naming and shaming
The government has been trying to curb top salaries for years, at first through naming and shaming (publishing these kinds of lists) and now, since 1 January, with the Normalizing Top Pay Act. This act is unusual in that it affects existing pay agreements. In four years'  time directors and senior management have to reduce their high salaries to 130 per cent of a minister's salary.
At the presentation of the list of high earners, Ronald Plasterk, Minister of the Interior, called on top earners to voluntarily accept a cut in pay already: 'It would create a good impression if they didn't wait until forced to comply.' Some directors, such as René Smit (VU) and Marcel Wintels (Fontys), have already said they will agree to pay restraint.
Has Wageningen's Executive Board chairman considered voluntary pay restraint? Chairman Aalt Dijkhuizen does not deny this in his e-mail reply: 'As said earlier, when my contract was renewed for the second time in 2010 it was agreed that there should be a substantial cut in the performance-related part of my salary. That is being implemented in four stages and amounts to a pay cut of 15 to 20 per cent. I'm not giving any more information about the ins and outs. Like everyone else, I negotiate my salary with my employer, not the press.'
The other directors, Kropff and Breukink, also agreed at the time to lower bonuses at the request of the Supervisory Board.
In view of the recent fuss, will the Supervisory Board now be asking the directors to accept a cut in their basic pay as well as their bonus? Margreeth de Boer, the board's chairman, gives a cryptic answer: 'There are matters that are best not discussed in public.' New contracts, at any rate, must comply with the Balkenende norm. Kropff and Breukink reach the end of their term of office on 1 October while Dijkhuizen's expires on 1 March 2014. De Boer: 'We are already holding talks about what happens afterwards. Where Kropff and Breukink are concerned, we have no reason to look for new candidates. Aalt Dijkhuizen's contract runs on a little longer so the discussions about a possible new term will take place later this year.'