Acting Prime Minister Bill English said yesterday it was "a bit embarrassing" to get a pay rise of more than $12,000 a year when workers were being hit by redundancies.
MPs have been given pay rises of between 3.8 per cent and 4.8 per cent, backdated to July this year.
The increases, determined by the independent Remuneration Authority and gazetted yesterday, push up Prime Minister John Key's salary to $393,000 from $375,000.
Mr English, his deputy, gets a salary of $276,700, up from $264,500.
"Yes, that's a bit embarrassing," Mr English said on TV One's Close Up.
"I think it reflects a time when public service salaries were going up pretty fast.
"I can assure you over the next couple of years, MPs won't be getting those kinds of pay rises, not many people will."
Mr English said that he thought individual MPs could say "no" to their pay rises.
Asked whether he was going to say "no" Mr English replied: "Now that's a good question. I honestly haven't considered, I don't know what the rise is, I've just heard there's been an announcement." Under the determination, Cabinet ministers' salaries increase to $243,700 from $233,000 and ministers outside Cabinet will be paid $204,300, up from $195,700.
The Leader of the Opposition, Labour's Phil Goff, will be paid $243,700, the same as a Cabinet minister.
Mr Goff was asked about the pay rises when announcing Labour's new shadow Cabinet.
He said he had never made a submission to the Remuneration Authority.
The basic salary for backbench MPs has increased to $131,000 from $126,000, although many of them get more than that because they hold a variety of positions like select committee chairs or deputy chairs.
The Remuneration Authority said it had considered salary movements in the state sector in its determinations.
"The Authority has looked to movements in salary and the Consumer Price Index in the broader economy in applying increases ranging between 3.8 per cent and 4.8 per cent to parliamentary salaries, again modestly recognising the size of the responsibilities placed on the Executive and party leaders."