The end of March might as well as be called bash the public service day.
It’s the day the sunshine list (a list of all public sector workers earning more than $100,000) comes out and right-wing think tanks, politicians and newspapers tell us how out of control public sector spending on wages is.
This year the headline is about a jump of 11 per cent in the numbers on the sunshine list – a number completely meaningless given the sunshine list is never adjusted for inflation.
If it were adjusted for inflation, we would be seeking the list of those who earn more than $134,000 per year, not $100,000. That would wipe out about three-quarters of the names on it.
About 1.2 million people are employed in the public sector. There are 71,478 on the sunshine list. If the sunshine list were adjusted for inflation, that number would be reduced to less than 18,000. That is 1.5 per cent.
The sunshine list also distorts reality – that for most of us, our wages have remained relatively stagnant while the province’s elite continue to reap an ever higher percentage of economic growth. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan reported the average public sector wage went up by 1.8 per cent last year. That’s hardly the road to the high life.
Over the past 30 years Canada’s real economic output has more than doubled. Last year the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report indicating the richest one per cent grabbed one third of all income growth since 1987. Their average income was $405,000.
The top .01 per cent saw the highest increases to their annual income, from an average of $640,000 in 1982 to $3.8 million in 2007. You won’t find any Ontario public sector workers in that category.
In the legislature the Tories were predictably on the attack. Tory MPP Christine Elliott called the McGuinty government’s spending restraint a “PR scheme.” There is no question that the Tories are looking for much tougher wage restraint in the public sector.
Earlier in the week, R. Michael Warren wrote a lengthy opinion piece in the Toronto Star claiming “over the last two decades public sector unions have used our growing dependence on their services to drive their members’ compensation to questionable heights.” Warren, who calls himself a “corporate director and public affairs commentator,” quotes a questionable study put out by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) that suggests public sector employees “enjoy” a compensation premium of 14.8 per cent.
To the extent that there is a wage premium in the public sector, it’s caused by two things the CFIB doesn’t ever mention: unionization and pay equity. The public sector is highly unionized and predominantly female. Because unions have been successful at enforcing pay equity laws in the public sector, women tend to receive equal pay for work of equal value. That’s not the case in the private sector, where pay equity laws are frequently flouted and women get paid less than they’re worth. The problem is women being exploited in the private sector, not overpaid in the public sector.
Clearly there is a propaganda war on our wages, and the sunshine list is the province’s annual gift to them.