Labour

Public sector is the place to be

Re: Comments about Patty Ducharme’s letter published on March 9, 2011, in the National Post

The debate on whether or not public sector employees are better paid than their private sector counterparts is an old one and is not about to be settled anytime soon.

First, comparisons are often difficult to make as some public sector positions do not have real private sector equivalents.

Secondly, in Quebec for example, the salary of public sector employees (i.e. only taking into account the hourly rate) tends to be lower than the salary of comparable positions in companies which employ 200 employees or more.

However, this assessment changes quite a bit when we look at total compensation rather than just at the hourly rate. Indeed, when employee benefits are taken into account, including defined benefit pension plans (and the huge actuarial advantage that a public sector employee gains from not having to leave his position if he does not want to because of job security), the number of hours worked, the number of paid vacations and days of sick leave, and so on, then we can say that public sector employees are paid more, for most positions, most of the time.

I suspect that this is also true at the federal level as well as in other provinces.

But the ultimate test will not come from studies by the Montreal Economic Institute, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives or any other think tank, whether “right wing,” “left wing” or ideologically clueless. Indeed, the real test is that of the market: i.e. do public administrations generally have problem recruiting people? Are public sector employees massively resigning from their jobs in order to go work in the private sector? The answer, clearly, is no. Conversely, most private sector workers that I know (except the ones at the upper end of the executive class) would leave their private sector job tomorrow morning in exchange for a full time position with job security within the public sector.

Michel Kelly-Gagnon is President and CEO of the Montreal Economic Institute.

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