More to public sector salary increases than meets the eye, union defends

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

At first glance, Tuesday's Parliamentary Budget Office report about public sector salaries gives Canadians more ammunition to bash the unions.

The 30-page dossier states that the average annual compensation in the federal public service is now $114,000 and that government employee salaries have outpaced the private sector by a huge margin.

The report elicited a curt statement the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF):

While real wages in Canada have remained stagnant over the last decade, federal government employees have enjoyed guaranteed wage increases, taxpayer guaranteed pensions and benefits that few Canadians could ever imagine. The report reveals that Canada is increasingly becoming a two-tiered society, with unionized government employees playing by different rules than the rest of us.

But, according to Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the numbers in the PBO report are a little misleading.

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"[The report] is not inaccurate but it does need to be placed in context,"  Liam McCarthy, a senior researcher with PSAC — Canada's largest public sector union — told Yahoo! Canada News.

"What it doesn't do is give you job-to-job comparisons."

Specifically, McCarthy argues that during the past few years, the public service has been employing a comparatively greater number of professionals and higher-paid executives which ultimately skews the $114,000 figure.

"The big change that has happened that there's this been this explosion of executive-level positions and there's also been, at the same time, an eroding of the number of the lower-paid positions," he said.

"For example, a bunch of cooks at military bases have lost their jobs ... It's change in composition versus a change in compensation. When you take out lower-end workers and you add in higher-end workers, that actually pushes up the average."

Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says the other thing that has driven up wages in the federal public sector is pay-equity legislation for women.

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"In low-paid jobs, they pay women better than they do in the private sector in the same job," she told Yahoo!.

Yalnizyan also takes umbrage to the the CTF's stance.

"For the [Canadian] Taxpayers Federation to say that public sector workers should not be paid more means: OK, we're going to have less professionals doing these jobs, and that we shouldn't have equal pay, and we shouldn't treat women equal as men," she said.

"Equal pay legislation covers most public sector workers. And on top of being applicable, it's actually enforced."

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