The ethos of the voluntary sector is being corrupted by the excessive salaries of some charity chief executives, according to trade union Unite.
The union, which has 60,000 members in the not-for-profit sector, says that "excessive City pay culture" has seeped into the voluntary sector, leading to some charity bosses earning more than the Prime Minister's annual salary of £197,000.
The union highlighted the pay of John Belcher, former chief executive of older people's housing charity the Anchor Trust, who was paid £391,000 in 2008/09.
Rachael Maskell, Unite's national officer for the not-for-profit sector, said excessive salaries corrupted the ethos of the voluntary sector and were an insult to people on average incomes who donated to charities.
"I think the general public will be shocked by the scale of the packages that some executives are being awarded," she said. "This sector is losing its sense of what real value is."
She called on charities to look closely at their pay scales and "iron out inequalities".
"Flat pay increases of a set amount should be introduced, instead of percentage rises, as this would reduce pay disparities – which are hitting, in particular, women, disabled people, ethnic minorities and part-time workers," she said.
She emphasised that her remarks applied only to charities that paid large salaries, and noted that the average charity chief executive's salary was £57,000.
Peter Kyle, deputy chief executive of Acevo, pointed out that the two joint general secretaries of Unite, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, earned a combined annual package of £308,000 in 2008. Simpson received £186,626 of this.
"They are running a complex organisation with millions of members and a broad range of stakeholders, just like other third sector leaders," he said.
"To mention third sector CEO remuneration in the same breath as city pay is insulting, a cheap shot at people running serious organisations in a time of social crisis."