The council top boss who earns just $2000 a year less than the Prime Minister has bowed to public pressure and backtracked on his decision not to take a 20 per cent pay cut during the coronavirus pandemic.
Hamilton City Council chief executive Richard Briggs had said he would not take the same pay cut announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this week.
Ardern said the cut was to show leadership and support for New Zealanders who had lost their jobs and livelihoods during the Covid-19 lockdown.
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Instead, Briggs said he would put a smaller per centage of his $469,040 annual salary into a council staff hardship fund.
However, in a statement released by the council today, Briggs said he would now adopt the 20 per cent pay cut, but the money would not go back into council coffers.
Despite Briggs' salary - which is higher than Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters - being paid by ratepayers, the money would go to a council staff hardship fund and be reassessed after six months.
Briggs said it was to help those struggling with the impacts of Covid-19, even though no redundancies had been made to the 1100-strong staff.
"But we know for many of our team members their household situation has changed," Briggs said.
"Partners are receiving no or lower income, their bubble includes more people than normal, they own businesses in our community, their power and food bills have escalated beyond their means."
The fund, that others were also donating to, was giving $100 vouchers and had already received some requests.
Those eligible for the fund included employees whose partner's income was reduced or lost, or who recently suffered a family bereavement or who were supporting their sick or elderly parents during the lockdown.
Briggs said the council had been making sure it was doing everything possible to help those who most needed it since the country went into lockdown on March 26.
"Personally, my priority is exactly the same and rather than creating a general saving that's absorbed within council, I want it targeted to those who really need it.
"The future impact that Covid-19 will have on our city and our nation is still largely uncertain."
Treasury was predicting it could be at least a year before normalcy returned, Briggs said.
"Early last week I made the decision to contribute 7 per cent of my salary to the staff hardship fund.
"Now we are clearer on what the long-term impacts of Covid-19 might be, I have made the decision to increase my pay cut from 7 per cent to 20 per cent.
"As well as this, I will continue to make my own personal charitable donations that I have done for many years."
Briggs came under fire this week for saying he would not follow the example of Ardern, who announced she and the rest of the country's top public officials would take the 20 per cent pay cut for six months.
Ardern earns just over $471,049 - only $2009 more than Briggs, who was given an almost $16,000 pay increase the month before lockdown took effect.
The Governor-General, Health and Disability Commissioner and Mental Health Commissioner - among other public watchdogs - announced yesterday they would donate 20 per cent of their salaries to charities.
Like elected officials, they are paid by the Remuneration Authority.
It's understood the majority of Hamilton councillors - where the average salary for a councillor chairing a committee is $102,000 - decided not to take a pay cut.
Hamilton's mayor Paula Southgate said while she was willing and happy to take a cut from her $174,500 annual income, she was awaiting approval from the Remuneration Authority.
That was despite Auckland mayor Phil Goff saying he and some Auckland councillors would take the 20 per cent cut the same day Ardern announced she would.
A spokeswoman for the mayor's office said it was not as straight-forward for elected members of local government.
"If for example, a mayor was to 'take a pay cut' under the law as it stands, his/her money would simply go back into the pool and be re-distributed ... to the other elected members.
"It doesn't go back into any kind of 'general pool' to be used for other council business."
She said until legislation was changed, the only way to take a "pay cut" was for mayors and elected members to donate their income.
"But they have to first receive it, in full."
The spokeswoman said the council had asked for direction from the Remuneration Authority.
Briggs' pay cut would take place immediately.