DAVOS: A union leader representing 20 million workers worldwide called for executive salaries to be capped at 20 times the pay of the average worker as he branded the system for rewarding business leaders “corrupt” and a “racket”.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum here yesterday, Philip Jennings, general secretary of the UNI global union, said the pay gap between those running companies and their workforces had widened to “unsustainable levels”.

High-profile support for the union argument was provided by French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who said the current remuneration model could not be tolerated. “It is morally indefensible and we can’t allow a tiny minority to skew the system,” Sarkozy said.

The French president added that world leaders should not use recovery from recession as an excuse to slacken the pace of reform. “We need a revolution in world regulation to put labour standards on the same footing as those for trade.” Sarkozy said he couldn’t understand why the International Labour Organisation, which tries to raise labour standards, had a lower status than the World Trade Organisation, which seeks to liberalise trade.

Jennings said unions would be lobbying the G20 group of developed and developing to take action when it holds a gathering in the summer to discuss the next stages of a global recovery. He said he had been encouraged to raise the issue by Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, who has publicly expressed concerns about the risks of recession.

“The people at the top have done a very good job at looking after themselves,” Jennings said.