Hundreds of public servants earning more than $100k get pay rises despite freeze

The Government still hasn't decided whether to let Pharmac and ACC chair Steve Maharey keep his job after he breached a code of conduct by expressing political opinions publicly - much like sacked health boss Rob Campbell.

It comes as Newshub can reveal the Government isn't adhering to its public sector pay freeze - with hundreds more public servants earning over a $100,000 getting increases despite a ban on them. 

Freshly fired and still fired up about the public service, Campbell told Newshub on Tuesday: "The public service is intent on neutering itself so it doesn't need anyone else to do the neutering."

Campbell was neutered by the Government, given the sack from his roles as chair of Te Whatu Ora Health NZ and Environmental Protection Authority, for expressing political opinion.

"After breaching the code of conduct and his subsequent refusal to step back from that I had lost confidence in him," Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said on Tuesday.

It's a very different treatment to former Labour minister and current Pharmac, ACC and Education NZ chair Steve Maharey. 

Campbell said he guesses Maharey is "on more friendly terms with some of the Government ministers".

"But I hasten to say I don't think he should be sacked either."

Public service bosses are bound by political neutrality clauses in a code of conduct.

Maharey writes a column for Stuff commenting on politics, but the Health Minister - who sacked Campbell - has so far decided to let Maharey's offence fly.

"In terms of with Mr Campbell, he called the Leader of the Opposition stupid and he implied his policies were racist," said Dr Verrall. "While he apologised to me, he then doubled down on those criticisms in the press. Mr Maharey has reached out and been contrite."

Campbell said he "did try to express contrition" - "but they didn't want to listen".

Dr Verrall said Maharey did offer his resignation to her. Asked if she didn't accept it, she said: "There's a process to go through with the Public Service Commission."

National says Maharey has got to go.

"The principle's the same between Rob Campbell and Steve Maharey. The difference is that Hipkins worked for [Maharey] and they have a deep relationship," said leader Christopher Luxon. 

National also wants the public service cleared out of consultants too, promising no more working groups.

"I can't see a reason for us to have working groups," Luxon said.  

Well, maybe just a few.

"We might have some working groups to kick around or advisory panels that sort of stuff," he later said. 

Consultant use has been on the rise, some pointing to the public sector pay freeze as a reason - consultants can earn more if they don't directly work for Government.  

Since 2020, the pay rises to public servants who earn more than $100,000 have been banned except in exceptional circumstances.

In April last year, Newshub uncovered thousands of high-salaried workers had received payrises despite the pay freeze.

Now we can reveal the practice hasn't changed.

From April to November, a further 427 high-paid public servants got a pay rise. They included 89 Ministry of Social Development staff, 51 Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority staff and, 42 Inland Revenue Staff.

And get this: the Public Service Commission - the agency that issues the pay guidance - gave five of its staff earning more than $100,000 a payrise. 

"This was their one big commitment to save taxpayers money and they couldn't even keep that one," said ACT leader David Seymour. 

Asked if he was happy with adherence to the pay restraint advice, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said: "In the main, yes." 

The 427 rises - perhaps outside the main. 

Jenna Lynch Analysis

So is Maharey safe?

All signs point to yes. While it's a breach of the code of conduct, Maharey has shown contrition and another difference seems to be he'd not been warned before. Campbell's was repeat behaviour with basically a promise that behaviour would continue. 

On the payrises, Newshub has just got a statement through from the Public Services Commissioner who says there were always exceptional circumstances in which to grant payrises - citing things like gender or ethnic pay gap issues. 

Newshub understands the pay restraint policy was reviewed at the end of last year and there will be new guidance released very soon and it will likely spell the end of the public sector pay freeze.