Jeremy Corbyn would effectively ban companies from paying staff more than £330,000 a year if they want to bid for government work, as part of a series of proposals designed to reduce income inequality in the UK.
The Labour leader used a speech on Tuesday to announce that, if prime minister, he would stop awarding contracts to any business where an executive earned more than 20 times the lowest salary.
Senior employees at major companies would either have to accept massive pay cuts or substantially raise the wages of their lowest-paid staff if they wanted to bid for British government work.
"While we tackle low pay at the bottom, we also have to address the excess that drives that poverty pay that leaves millions of people in poverty even though they work," Corbyn told an audience in Peterborough.
"It cannot be right that if companies are getting public money that that can be creamed off by a few at the top."
In a company where a member of staff earned a full-time living wage of £16,000 a year, that would limit the maximum pay of anyone else in the organisation to around £330,000 a year.
Many companies with government contracts currently pay substantially more than this to their top executives. Security business G4S paid £2.5 million to chief executive Ashley Almanza in 2015, with other senior executives receiving pay packets worth over £1 million – but the company appeared unfazed by Corbyn's proposal.
"Our pay rates reflect the global nature of our business, with over 85% of revenue generated outside the UK," a spokesperson for G4S told BuzzFeed News. "Central UK government contracts account for only 5% of global sales for G4S."
Other businesses with government contracts that would be affected include outsourcing company Serco, which runs services for the government including Yarl's Wood detention centre and paid £2.2 million to chief executive Rupert Soames in 2015. He would face a pay cut of around £1.9 million under Corbyn's plan.
Thousands of individuals working for leading businesses would be hit by the proposal – unless they chose to give enormous pay rises to staff on low wages.
The Labour leader also suggested he would like to extend the 20-to-1 pay ratio to private companies, although he was less certain on how to enforce this. He also did not mention the idea of imposing a national "maximum wage", which he had suggested in earlier interviews.
Corbyn also appeared to adopt a more pro-immigration tone. In advance of the speech his team had told journalists he would say, "Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle," suggesting he was ready to back reduced immigration post-Brexit.
By the time he gave the speech, this had been amended to a more nuanced version: "Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don't want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out."
The long-time supporter of free movement has come under pressure from within his own party to call for a cut in immigration levels. At one point he appeared to have bowed to pressure and changed his position but by Tuesday's speech this was less clear.
Asked by journalists whether he actively wanted to reduce levels of immigration, Corbyn declined to say he wanted an absolute reduction in numbers, instead highlighting the benefits of immigration and pointing out that Britain's ageing population required a younger workforce.
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at email@example.com.
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