Bombardier must compete with firms globally to recruit and retain talent, said the letter from Jean Monty, the head of Bombardier's human resources and compensation committee. It also contended that 75 per cent of compensation for most senior Bombardier executives is based on meeting performance targets and is not guaranteed.
"I am confident that our compensation practices are sound,'' Monty wrote.
"They reflect the global nature of the business and our need to attract and retain the very best Canadian and global talents.''
The company is facing a backlash after awarding a nearly 50 per cent pay increase to six top executives in 2016 compared to the previous year while receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.
Compensation for the Montreal-based manufacturer's top five executives and board chairman Pierre Beaudoin was US$32.6 million in 2016, up from US$21.9 million the year before.
Monty's letter said pay comparisons between 2016 and 2015 are misleading because some of the executives started with Bombardier only part way through 2015 — for example Alain Bellemare was appointed President and CEO in February, 2015.
Beaudoin though, issued a statement late Friday saying he asked the board of directors to reduce his compensation for last year to 2015 levels. Hours earlier two Quebec cabinet ministers said Bombardier should reflect on the compensation it provided to its senior executives.
Beaudoin said he took the step because public trust is important to Bombardier and he was also concerned the issue has become a distraction from the work employees at Bombardier are doing.
However Beaudoin's voluntary pay cut, which Bombardier said will amount to roughly US$1.4 million, was labelled by some critics as an insufficient measure that didn't address the issues behind the hikes.
"Mr. Beaudoin is member of a billionaire family that controls the company. So no, a sacrifice of a million dollars doesn't change anything,'' said Aaron Wudrick, the director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, in an email.
Renaud Gagne of Unifor, which represents almost 1,000 Bombardier workers, agreed that Beaudoin's decision to renounce the raise didn't mean much.
"Executive salaries were already exaggerated (in 2015), especially compared to that of the average worker,'' he said.
"They should be more respectful of the situation seeing as they're asking for public money.''
The Quebec government gave Bombardier (TSX:BBD.B) roughly US$1 billion in 2016 while the federal government recently announced a $372.5-million loan package for the firm's CSeries and Global 7000 aircraft programs.
14,500 jobs to be cut
A spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents some 4,500 Bombardier workers, called Beaudoin's decision "a step in the right direction.''
David Chartrand said the bonuses could be seen as disrespectful to workers, especially since Bombardier is eliminating 14,500 jobs around the world by the end of next year.
"They say that they need us to tighten our belts and need sacrifices from the employees, it's a little disrespectful to ask that from the employees when they give themselves these kinds of bonuses,'' he said.