Workers are missing out despite firms' becoming more productive, unions say, with productivity rising 10 percent between 2009 and 2013 but real wages up only 1.5 percent.
Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg said bosses had used low inflation as an excuse to offer minuscule pay increases.
"Employers are using that and for many people, they're not even getting that (1.5 percent)," Mr Rosenberg said.
"Forty-three percent of people aren't even getting a pay rise, so there are many people who are not even keeping up with inflation."
But Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly said highly productive workers were being well rewarded and those with the right skills, such as in software, were experiencing strong wage growth.
The message was that people needed to increase their skills, he said.
"What you'll need to be doing is working with the employer to make sure that you build your skills, working on that new piece of equipment or that new piece of ICT that they might have in the shop.
"By doing that, you'll actually tend to get higher skills, higher wages over time."