Jacinda Ardern defends public sector pay freeze, says it doesn't reflect workers' COVID-19 response

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended the controversial decision to freeze the pay of public servants, saying it was not a reflection on how hard people like the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield worked during the pandemic

The Government announced on Wednesday for the next three years, no one in the public service on a wage of more than $100,000 will get a pay rise, while anyone earning between $60,000 and $100,000 will have to prove "exceptional circumstances" to get a raise.

The changes prompted backlash from political analysts, unions and the National Party.

When speaking to Ardern during The AM Show on Monday morning, host Duncan Garner questioned the decision in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic where many of the people affected by the pay freeze worked extremely hard to keep Kiwis safe - including Dr Bloomfield.

"There is no question [that he performed well]," Ardern said. "This is in no way any suggestion that our public sector... do not work incredibly hard, absolutely… I wouldn't want to speak on behalf of Ashley - but also would say he was amongst the CEs [chief executives] who voluntarily took a cut during that period and I want to acknowledge that."

She said Labour is more focused on increasing the salaries of those workers who are earning below $60,000 in a bid to reduce inequality.

"None of this is easy, absolutely, but I refuse to continue to preside over a period of time where we have seen good growth in median incomes, wages have continued to increase, but those on the lowest wages, they have not - not at the pace we need. We must lift that group."

The pay freeze decision caused outrage from political analyst Dr Bryce Edwards who slammed Labour for the "betrayal".

"Is Labour supposed to be the party of labour or of capital? It's often hard to tell these days," he wrote in an opinion piece.

He said other people see the decision as an "outrageous assault on a workforce that doesn't deserve such a punishment".

The Public Service Association (PSA) union, the Nurses Union and The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists also criticised the pay freeze.

Nurses Union spokesperson Glenda Alexander said it was shocking to come after the pandemic when healthcare workers contributed significantly.

"Our nurses responded when required, right at the outset of this pandemic, and have been making a huge contribution to keeping our border safe, dealing with the returnees - they'll feel like this is a bit of a slap in the face."

There are now concerns doctors and nurses will move to Australia as the country may be able to offer significantly higher wages.