Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pay packets: federal public servants leaving rest of us behind

The Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, has published a report showing that our 375,000 federal public servants have left the rest of us behind over the past decade or so when it comes to total compensation.

Most of us, I believe, will not be surprised to hear this. For, while many have struggled financially during the past decade, we have been aware that public servants, at all levels, have been receiving regular upgrades to their wages and enjoy some of the most generous sick-leave and pension benefits in North America. For the most part, sick-leave and pension benefits in the private sector pale by comparison.

Page’s report, though, puts some figures against what our guts were telling us: namely that the average federal public servant costs us $114,100 a year, a figure that Page expects to balloon to a whopping $129,800 in the next three years.

From 1999 and 2012, salary and benefit costs per public servant rose by a stunning 5.1 per cent annually—this is more than twice the 2.1 per cent average annual inflation rate over the same period. This is a growth rate well above the 3.3 per cent increase enjoyed by workers in the private sector, and even exceeds the 3.8 per cent gain for employees of provincial and territorial governments.

As an aside: last evening I watched Evan Solomon, host of CBC’s Power & Politics TV show try to deal with this report. Whether he deliberately wanted to play down the Budget Officer’s comparison between the public sector’s compensation increase and that in the business sector, I could not tell. But Solomon went off on a weird sort of tangent, suggesting the public servant’s compensation figure could somehow be compared to what it costs to keep a convict in federal penitentiary for a year.

Solomon lost me entirely. I would have liked to see him compare the figure to the pay a private in our army receives to put his life on the line for Canada in far off places, though.

But I digress.

Kevin Page’s report also helps explain why public servants’ compensation continues to grow even during periods of restraint, such as we had in the mid-1990s and in which we are now supposed to be. Apparently, many federal government employees receive pay adjustments over and above their annual pay increases by moving up to a higher pay scale from year to year.

I suppose this is similar to the “grid” system Ontario’s teachers enjoy and which has allowed them to receive salary increases well above those stated in most media reports—and well above the rate of inflation. A sort of built-in annual windfall most in the private sector can only dream about.

A really depressing take-away from the report is a projection that the average annual compensation will rise from the reported $114,100 to $129,800 by 2014-15. This despite the Tory government’s promises of restraint.

Yup! Every year we borrow billions of dollars just so fat-cat public sector unions and their members can be kept in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed—and, apparently, to heck with the rest of us.


  1. What makes this even worse is that the "Conservative" government has allowed the public service to mushroom in growth instead of decreasing the size.

  2. The people with the highest salaries, which bring the average up to the $114k, are not members of any union;