Lyttelton Port Company is defending its decision to reward chief executive Peter Davie with a $600,000 bonus - incentives paid on top of Mr Davie's salary of $400,000.
Christchurch Mayor, Bob Parker says the big bonus is out of step with community expectations and the Rail and Maritime Union says Mr Davie should recognise the amount is inappropriate and refuse it.
But port board chair Rodger Fisher says Mr Davie earned the incentives by meeting long and short-term performance targets set by the board.
Mr Fisher says the company's assets were badly damaged after the earthquakes and Mr Davie has since presided over record profits.
The Rail and Maritime Union says such a large sum is unfair, given workers have had only a relatively small increase in pay in recognition of their efforts since the Canterbury earthquakes.
Mr Parker says Lyttelton Port incentive payments are a step too far for the local community.
The mayor says he speaks from experience, following the council's own experience with the big public backlash to its decision to award a $68,000 pay rise to its own chief executive, Tony Marryatt.
Mr Parker says that the council it can't interfere in its decisions of the port company, even though it owns a stake in it of almost 80%.
The chair of the council's shareholding company, Bruce Irvine, says the bonus covers several years, and was adequately explained at the company's annual meeting.