ESRI research on pensions shows that Irish public companies are paying pension contributions for top executive directors that are 36 times the average for other employees.

While top bosses in Ireland got paid ten times average earnings, their pension fund got 36 times the average pension contribution.

The ESRI paper calls for a rebalancing of pension tax reliefs away from top earners.

The report analysed the pensions contributions paid to 147 executive directors of listed companies in 2009.

It finds that the average employer contribution for employees was around 7% of salary, but for executive directors it was 26%.

With an average salary of just over €396,000, that meant top bosses got an average pension contribution of €100,000, while other employees got just €2,700 towards their retirement funds.

If they had retired in 2009, executive directors would have got an average pension of €199,100, which was 17 times the annual State pension of €11,976.

The paper, by Trinity College School of Business academic Gerry Hughes, says tax reliefs on pension contributions were €2.7bn in 2009.

The biggest beneficiaries of this tax relief are those with the highest earnings, and with the biggest pension pots.

The paper argues that contributions and pension fund size should be capped to redirect this relief to encourage pension savings by middle and lower income earners.

SIPTU President Jack O'Connor has said that the ESRI report showed that the tax subsidisation of private pensions for top earners was "obscene" and "morally indefensible".

In a statement, Mr O'Connor: "In the current circumstances, when the majority of people in Ireland are suffering the consequences of the absurd Troika driven one sided austerity agenda, it is absolutely intolerable.

"Over the years we in the trade union movement have lobbied hard to persuade governments to reduce the threshold for tax subsidisation of private pensions. Whereas we have met with some limited success, progress has been far too slow.

"As an absolute minimum the current threshold should be reduced from €115,000 per year to €80,000, with parallel reductions in the maximum life time pension pot allowable.

"It should be accompanied by the gradual development of a range of measures to incentivise pension savings by lower income workers, leading ultimately to a mandatory pension system for all."