Judges are getting a pay rise that will put hundreds of dollars more in their pockets each week as the Government warns of tough times for workers and their families.
The Remuneration Authority confirmed yesterday a 4.8 per cent pay rise for judges, matching the increase delivered to MPs just weeks ago.
Unions say the rise comes as other workers are being asked to accept restraint and those workers should not have to bear the brunt of the economic slowdown alone.
Authority chairman David Oughton admitted yesterday that the timing of the rises for judges and MPs was bad but said decisions were always based on movements in the private and public sectors in the previous year, not on likely conditions in the year ahead.
If the current financial uncertainty was reflected in a slowdown in pay rates generally in the next 12 months, that would be reflected in the next round of decisions.
The Government warned workers yesterday to brace for tough times and Finance Minister Bill English summoned government department bosses to Treasury, where they were told it was time to put the brakes on new spending.
Mr English also warned any feel-good factor from tax cuts in combination with lower mortgage rates and plummeting petrol prices might be fleeting, saying the price drops reflected the weak economy.
"2009 is set to be a very tough year, with unemployment set to rise to at least 6.5 per cent, the Government's books will be in the red for the foreseeable future and families and businesses will have a growing sense of insecurity because of the loss of jobs and ... their vulnerability to the international and domestic downturn."
Yesterday's pay rise, backdated to October 1, gives some of the most senior judges about $385 a week extra, while district court judges, now on $273,000 a year, get about $260 extra a week.
Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union secretary Andrew Little said 4.8 per cent was a generous pay rise in this environment. "The average we're getting would be 3.5 per cent, maybe. Judges need pay rises too, but I think in these times everybody is being asked to accept restraint."
Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said the union supported workers getting pay rises. "That doesn't exclude judges but it should include other people too. The economic crisis can't fall completely on the shoulders of working people."
Mr Oughton said a big gap remained between what judges were paid and what they might get in the private sector. "They'll never catch up to the private sector."
WHO GETS PAID WHAT
* Chief Justice: $432,000
* Supreme Court judge: $405,000
* President of the Court of Appeal: $405,000
* Judge of the Court of Appeal: $380,000
* Chief High Court judge: $379,000
* Judge of the High Court: $362,000
* Chief District Court judge $362,000
* District Court judge: $273,000
* Prime Minister John Key: $393,000
* Cabinet ministers: $243,700
* Backbench MP: $131,000
* Kiwi worker on average wage: $48,000
- The Dominion Post