A Fraser Institute report says government employees at all levels in B.C. are paid nearly 14 per cent more on average than their counterparts in the private sector, and cautions the provincial government to look closely at the pay difference in its budget deliberations.
Any scrutiny of how public money is spent is welcome — and necessary — but money doesn’t tell the whole story.
While Jason Clemens, Fraser Institute executive vice-president and co-author of the report, aims his remarks at the B.C. government, it should be noted that the study included federal, provincial and municipal employees. The provincial government accounts for 55.5 per cent of the public employees here; 11 per cent are with the federal government and the rest work for municipal governments.
It used to be that a government position was considered a plum job, with easy working conditions, rich benefits and a comfortable salary. Get a government job and you’re set for life, right?
And then there’s the common portrayal of the typical public employee — six workers leaning on shovels while one does the work.
Sure, abuses occur, but the reality for most public employees differs greatly from those stereotypes. The public demands that taxes be kept down while insisting on more services. Budgets shrink but the workload doesn’t, and civil servants are required to do more with less. When services are cut, the workers on the front line have to deal with angry British Columbians.
Most excluded provincial employees — managers and others not involved in collective agreements — have not had a raise since 2008. All provincial employees have seen benefits taken away.
The working conditions of B.C.’s civil servants can be altered instantly by political whim, and as an election approaches, the stress increases. In less than four months, if polls are to be believed, B.C. will have a new government, further adding to the uncertainty for provincial employees. Employees can be whipsawed back and forth as a government in panic tries to improve the ratings. Priorities can shift from day to day.
Anything can happen — pre-election polls incorrectly predicted the demise of Alberta Premier Alison Redford in that province’s last election — but even an election that returns an incumbent government brings changes, and it falls to government employees to make and live with those changes.
Amela Karabegovic, Fraser Institute senior economist and co-author of the study, points out that in the public sector, “wages and benefits are largely driven by political factors and the monopolistic nature of government, while in the private sector they are guided by market forces, competition and profit constraints.”
The other side of that coin is that governments have the power to impose settlements. Public-sector jobs are vulnerable to public pressure that is not always objective.
And when you are a public employee, everyone is your boss, and most of them think they know better than you how to do your job.
We don’t advocate lavish government salaries and unrealistic pension plans, and we believe the wages of government employees should reflect economic reality, but let’s not perpetuate the myth that a government job is the same thing as living on Easy Street.
© Copyright 2013