Jacinda Ardern 'frustrated' she's still earning full salary despite 20 percent pay cut promise

The Prime Minister is "frustrated" that she is still earning her full salary despite changing the law so ministers would take a 20 percent salary cut in solidarity with COVID-19 job losses. 

Jacinda Ardern announced in April that she and other ministers, as well as public sector bosses like Dr Ashley Bloomfield, would take a 20 percent pay cut for six months - but two months later it hasn't happened. 

"What I am frustrated by is how long it's taken," Ardern told reporters on Tuesday. "We passed the law in May and we're still waiting for the Remuneration Authority to make it happen."

The salaries of elected politicians and senior public officials is set according to the Remuneration Authority Act 1977, so the Government passed an amendment to enact the temporary pay cuts. 

Ardern said she was told that by law she could not refuse her full salary, and has to wait for the law change to be implemented by the Remuneration Authority. 

"It's frustrating," she said. "But again, as I've always said, we've committed to six months and six months it will be."

The latest Government figures show jobseeker support has reached 190,600 in New Zealand, as businesses struggle with the economic downturn sparked by COVID-19. 

Ardern said the Government "canvassed all the options" to reduce their pay in solidarity with New Zealanders losing their jobs to COVID-19 - including giving some of their salary to charities - but she said that could be problematic. 

"Giving it to charities did open up wider issues. First, we had to demonstrate what we said we were going to do. Second, it then raises the question of who a member of the Government would choose as a charity, and that could raise issues in itself."

She said "frustratingly" the "simplest option was to change the law which unfortunately is taking the longest". 

ACT leader David Seymour proposed two amendments to the legislation - one that would make the pay cuts compulsory, and another that would have made public which MPs opted to take pay cuts - but they were voted down. 

Labour said at the time the Government's position was that the Remuneration Authority should have the ability to consider each circumstance of the person having their pay cut. 

The Prime Minister's current salary is $471,049, which would be reduced to $423,945 after the six-month 20 percent pay cut. 

Dr Bloomfield is one of the highest paid public service chief executives, earning around $528,000, and his new 2020 salary will be about $475,200 with the six-month 20 percent reduction.

The Government has already made changes to the way MPs are paid. 

In August 2019, the Government repealed a John Key-era law tying MPs' salaries to the average wage to restore independence to the Remuneration Authority.

It followed the Prime Minister freezing MPs' salaries in August 2018, after the Remuneration Authority planned to give MPs a 3 percent pay increase.