The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has criticised the levels of pay that the chief executives of the top companies in the country are receiving.

Research carried out by union umbrella group found that annual pay and benefits were close to or greater than €1m for the CEOs of 22 of 26 of the largest firms in Ireland.

For the past four years, ICTU has been tracking the changes in remuneration of chief executives of many of the biggest Irish businesses listed on the Irish and London stock exchanges.

This year's report shows that among the 26 firms studied, CEO pay rose in 11 of them.

The levels of increase range from 9% to 99% across the companies examined.

This compares, ICTU claims, to a 2.6% rise in the wages of full-time workers.

CRH continues to have the highest CEO to average worker pay ratio, the study finds.

It would take 212 years for an ordinary worker to earn what the building materials group's CEO took home last year, although this is down from 230 years 12 months ago, ICTU claims.

It would take 50 years for an average worker to collect what half the bosses at top firms earn a year, the research shows.

Overall, 22 of the 26 firms' bosses earned close to or above €1m, with the highest securing pay and related perks worth €8.2m, the study finds.

ICTU General Secretary Patricia King said the unjustifiable gap between the top earners and the ordinary employees needs to be urgently addressed.

"We want to know how CEO pay compares to workers in the rest of the workforce," Laura Bambrick, Social Policy Officer with ICTU said.

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"And we've hope of seeing that with a new EU directive which was due to have been transposed into Irish law this summer."

The EU Shareholder Directive compels companies and organisations to report CEO pay as a ratio to the average employee wage at the company.

"It doesn't prevent member states from putting more ambitious provisions in place," Ms Bambrick pointed out.

The UK introduced such measures in recent years for companies with over 250 employees requiring them to disclose CEO-employee pay ratios.