Nicola Willis says teachers' pay should keep pace with inflation, but won't commit to it if National wins

Nicola Willis won't commit to keeping teachers' pay in line with inflation if National wins October's election.

The National deputy leader spoke to AM host Ryan Bridge on Wednesday morning, filling in for her boss Christopher Luxon, who's in isolation with COVID-19.

During the interview, Willis and Bridge discussed teachers' decision to push ahead with strike action this week.

A lack of staff and scarce pay adjustments have triggered what's set to be a historic display of defiance from the education sector, with about 50,000 teachers walking off the job on Thursday.

Willis said, on the whole, she wanted New Zealanders to earn more.

"That absolutely includes teachers," said Willis, also National's Finance spokesperson. "When I've gone and looked at what is the pay offer being made to teachers over these next couple of years, what's really difficult to work out is, how much is retrospective [and] how much is for the future?

"The bottom line - we cannot have inflation at 7.2 percent for next year and the year after that, you'd hope it would be coming back down. So I think that you would expect teachers to have pay that, at the very least, keeps up with inflation."

When pressed by Bridge about whether that would happen under a National Government, Willis wouldn't commit to it.

"I'm not going to negotiate the details of the next settlement here… and how you calculate these things, who the pay goes to; is it the beginner teachers? Is it the senior teachers? How much is going to people who have got management units? 

"I want to give flexibility on all of that," Willis said.

But when Bridge continued to press Willis on why she was calling for inflation-adjusted pay but wouldn't commit to implementing it, the National Party deputy leader said: "I don't know the details of the settlement that's currently on the table.

"I'm pretty loathed to jump in the middle of that negotiating table and say, 'Here's how you sort it' when I don't have the details so all I'm saying is… the thing that a lot of people say to me is, 'Let's make sure we pay our teachers well.' The job they do is so important for our families and actually for the future of our economy."