Civil Servants Paid Too Much: Wages and perks for public employees too high

Media Appearances, Public Sector, Frontier Centre

Public sector union leaders insist there’s nothing cushy about life as a bureaucrat, despite a new report that shows that the increases in wages of federal and provincial employees in the past decade was nearly twice those in the private sector.

John Gordon, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents 180,000 federal employees, said bureaucrats face increasingly difficult work situations. As for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy report on public-versus-private sector wages, his eyebrow-raising response was:

"The fact of the matter is, people come into the public sector and say: ‘Jeez, there’s work that I’m expected to do and for the remuneration I get, it’s absolutely unbelievable. There’s a lot of talent all through public service at all levels but the workload increases and increases every day."

Cry us the Rideau Canal.

It’s one thing for governments to set an acceptable standard for how society should treat and pay its employees. It’s quite another when that bar is so high, it’s not comparable to those who are footing the bill.

The Frontier Centre, an independent think-tank, analyzed reports over 11 years, for all 20 industries tracked by Statistics Canada. It concluded that federal public servants salaries and perks rose 59 per cent, between 1998 and 2009, provincial government raises rose 55 per cent and everyone else’s salaries rose on average just 30 per cent, during the same period.

It used to be that public sector salaries were actually lower than average, to offset the lucrative benefits and pension packages offered by government. Now civil servants have it all, with both big pay and the Cadillac pension and benefit plans.

There’s no end to the generosity of some perks that would never be sustainable in the private sector.

A common benefit the federal government offers is allowing transfers when a spouse is relocated. That sounds reasonable enough, on the surface, until the question of moving expenses is factored into the equation.

In the private sector, if an employee requests a transfer, a company is unlikely to pay for moving expenses. If that person is lucky enough to be married to a federal employee, who requests and gets transferred, guess who pays?

Such perks are questionable in the face of the federal government’s deficit situation, and reports by Parliament’s budget watchdog that the finances aren’t as rosy as expected.

Kevin Page told Parliament this week the government will likely still have a $10 billion budget by 2015 unless it takes substantial corrective action.

Had the rate of wage increases simply been slowed, the Frontier Centre estimates taxpayers could have saved $2.6 billion in 2009 alone, in provincial and federal salaries. Slower growth rather than wage freezes, which governments have been known to do, are all around better, and would reduce the growing gap between public and private sector remuneration.

"Kick start a rich career path," touts the federal government’s public service jobs’ board.

They’re not kidding.