Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton will be asked to “justify” an increased pay packet of up to £190,000 to MLAs.
Mr Hamilton has received a pay increase of £25,000 to £30,000 which will bring his salary to between £185,000 and £190,000.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment said the pay deal was approved by Trade Minister Arlene Foster and confirmed by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.
Mr Hamilton will appear at a hearing of the DETI committee today to discuss the agency’s half-year performance, a session which had been scheduled before the pay rise emerged.
Before taking on the Invest NI job, Mr Hamilton was economic adviser to former First Minister Ian Paisley.
He also worked in telecommunications giant BT for more than 25 years.
Enterprise committee chairman Patsy McGlone, an SDLP MLA in Mid-Ulster, said for Mr Hamilton to receive a rise when the rest of the economy was suffering was “astounding and incredible”.
“It seems to be a case of not calling a bonus, a bonus,” he said.
“Whenever you are dealing every day with people with financial problems, whose benefits are being cut or who are facing a pay freeze, it is astounding and incredible for this to happen.”
Mr McGlone said he would ask Mr Hamilton how he could “justify” his salary at the hearing today.
Eugene McGlone of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) said he opposed the raise, which leaves Mr Hamilton outstripping the First Minister’s £111,000 package and the Prime Minister’s basic earnings of £145,000.
“It is a strange set of circumstances and I wonder what has happened and if there has been an upturn in employment to justify it... this highlights the problem of the gap between the highest and lowest paid in our society — particularly between those at the top of public services and those who deliver them.”
Green Party MLA Steven Agnew said rising unemployment in Northern Ireland left Mr Hamilton’s pay rise “questionable”.
“Mr Hamilton is in a publicly-funded post and when the vast majority of public sector workers are struggling with pay freezes and increased pension contributions for lower returns, this is a real slap in the face.”
Ulster Unionist Assembly member Sandra Overend said: “For the man on the street, the everyday person in my community, it’s hard for them to understand that someone like him earns as much as he does, then has a pay rise on top of that.”
But Ian Coulter, CBI Northern Ireland chairman, said: “If we want the best people in the best positions, we need to pay near private sector market rates for the key posts.”
Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan, who is vice chairman of the enterprise committee, said the payment was “excessive”.
“This announcement comes at a time when most public servants are facing not only a pay freeze but threats to their pension entitlements.”
No one from the DUP or Alliance parties was available for comment.
Politicians from almost all major political parties are opposed to the pay rise given to the man at the top of Invest NI, Northern Ireland’s economic development agency. Alastair Hamilton’s salary has jumped by 18% to between £185,000 and £190,000. The chief executive’s salary is £160k with scope for £48k in performance-linked bonuses.