National MP Erica Stanford takes brutal jab at Labour's Michael Wood during discussion about pay gap between teachers, politicians

A Labour MP is defending the Government's commitment to teachers after the gap between their pay and politicians was highlighted on AM on Friday.

Around 30,000 primary school teachers will be going on strike across the country next Thursday after rejecting a second pay offer.

Secondary school and kindergarten teachers are also striking on Thursday, which will mean up to 50,000 teachers will be taking industrial action in total.

Labour MP Michael Wood was grilled about teachers' pay by AM's Melissa Chan-Green on Friday. Chan-Green pointed out the starting rate for a teacher is now not much more than minimum wage, whereas the starting rate for a politician is significantly higher.

Wood was questioned why this was, given in 1976 the starting rate for a teacher was around $12,370 while a backbench MP was paid around $14,000. Now an experienced secondary teacher gets paid around $90,000, while the lowest-paid and inexperienced backbench MP gets $163,000 a year.

"That's a huge difference. So is it fair that politicians' salaries have surged ahead so much more than teachers' salaries?" Chan-Green asked.

But while Wood conceded the gap had grown, he said politicians are an easy target.

"I think across our whole system, some of those sorts of relativities have gotten a bit out of whack over time," he said.

"So, yes, politicians are often the easy target there and fair enough for bringing it up. But for example, we've had massive escalation for those on CEO salaries compared to people doing important work."

Wood also pointed out the Government has made significant increases to teachers' wages over  the past five years.

"We've done various things to effectively freeze MP pay over the last five years that we've been in Government because we do think things need to get back into balance a bit.

"And as I say, we've increased teacher pay between 20 and 40 percent, so we are working on trying to bring that fairness back into the system.

But he said minimum wage workers also need fair pay as well as teachers.

National MP and education spokesperson Erica Stanford, who joined Wood on AM, said there's no doubt teachers are undervalued.

"We need to value our teachers more and they are feeling extremely undervalued, overworked, tired and burnt out, which is why we're seeing so many of them exit the profession.

"There are a lot of things we can do and it's not just about pay, but it's about conditions as well."

But when she was asked about the gap between teachers' pay and politicians, she had a sassier response. Stanford jokingly suggested there are "a number of politicians who potentially don't deserve that rate of pay", while looking pointedly at Wood.

The comment didn't go down well with Wood, who hit back jokingly saying, "What a nasty little comment, Erica".

"I thought we were friends," he added while laughing.

"I was smiling," she joked back.

Earlier on the show, Stanford was asked whether National would commit to increasing teachers' wages to match inflation if elected

But she wouldn't give anything away, instead saying the Government needs to focus on reducing inflation - which is currently sitting at 7.2 percent

"The issue we've got, of course, is that we're in a cost of living crisis and everyone is feeling the pinch really, really badly. Teachers are no different than anyone else and part of the problem is that this Government has let inflation get completely out of control.

"We've been saying for a really long time, one of the key things we need to do is get inflation under control, which is why we put out our five-point plan. But the other issue, of course, is that the minimum wage now is close to the starting teacher rate. I think the difference per hour is $1.36 which is about $3000 a year. So, of course, teachers are feeling extremely aggrieved because of that difference," she said.

But Wood said the Government is committed to helping teachers without "punching down at minimum wage workers and making things worse for people on the lowest pay".

"That's certainly not the approach we will take. We support everyone and we'll keep working with the teachers through this negotiation process and keep talking to them.

"We want to have those negotiations carry on and avert a strike and we urge both parties, the Ministry of Education and the teacher unions to work really constructively on that."