Opinion » Editorial


Wages versus services?



Government jobs have always had that "safe" factor.

Many of the employees belong to unions, while others earn a type of unofficial tenure as the years go by.

In many places they remain sought after positions with workers often taking jobs below their training level to get a "foot in the door" initially.

At all levels of government, the jobs come with benefits, pension plans and other perks the private sector these days can rarely match and an entrepreneur rarely even considers.

The age-old standby argument has always been that governments have to offer these things to lure workers away from the private sector.

That's a hard pill to swallow when we see from the latest Statements of Financial Information (SOFI) that Whistler's payroll costs went up 12 per cent in 2010.

However we have to take into account that it is estimated that 5.7 per cent of the increase is attributable to the Olympic Games payroll and overtime.

According to the RMOW, additional labour for snow clearing and transportation, village operations, the fire department and bylaw were all required as a result of Games time operations. The Province of B.C. reimbursed Whistler for these Olympic-related costs.

So in 2010, Whistler paid $815,600 in direct labour and overtime costs related to the Games, in those areas. A further $347,400 for the Games office and communications were funded by the additional hotel room tax we receive.

All of these amounts (totalling $1.16 million) are included in the SOFI for 2010, but none of the reimbursements are included, as those are the rules of the Financial Information Act, the legislation that stipulates how the SOFI is presented.

But for many it is still difficult to take with tough economic times continuing to take a toll, and few everyday workers getting a pay rise. Many are wondering if Whistler is a "fur-coat-but-no-pants" kind of place.

This does not go unnoticed at municipal hall. In a story in today's Pique , Mayor Ken Melamed recognizes that some people may think the cost of government is too high. Looking into that, he said, is part of the ongoing organizational review underway.

You can't take the SOFI numbers at face value as a measure of salary as they do, of course, include different types of benefits.

"The figure noted for employee remuneration is not the employee's salary, nor their take home pay," states the report.

"This figure includes employee and employer portions of EI, CPP, various other required deductions, employee and employer portion of health benefits and taxes that are deducted from each pay."

These can be significant costs and not just to Whistler's municipality. This is a cost economies around the world are grappling with. Near the top of the list is the cost of pension plans, despite the payouts primarily coming from investment portfolios.

An article on Taxpayer.com tells us that each of us would have to save $14,180 a year for 35 years to get the same as a federal public servant retiring today would get. Most federal public sector employees get 70 per cent of the average of the highest five consecutive years of paid service and they are fully indexed to the cost of living. In 2009-10 the number of federal employees reportedly earning over $100,000 was 42,050, having almost tripled in five years.

Here is something else to think about and why it may be time to think about salaries in all levels of government: in the '50s the mostly male workforce had a life expectancy of 67 years while today it is 81 years.

So in 60 years Canada has gone from a two-year pension payout to a 26-year commitment.

Then there is the question we ask ourselves all the time: are we getting value for money? Are the taxes we are paying to all levels of government giving us back good value in services?

A survey of 150,000 Canadians completed last month for QMI Agency found that 47 per cent of respondents would have no problem if the Treasury Board cut government salaries as a way of dealing with the deficit.

Perhaps this is an indication that many people feel we are not getting good value for our tax dollars.

An online sample of the same survey found that 45 per cent said public workers earned too much for the work they performed.

Remember those riots in Greece recently, as the country moved to introduce austerity measures? Well, according to various media outlets, the government's close to one million workers work for 12 months but get paid for 16 months.

This is simply unsustainable.

I know that our government employees work very hard at all levels - municipal, provincial and federal.

But it's hard to find a rationale for these workers to get an ever increasing salary funded by the tax-pool when in general people are getting fewer and fewer services.

According to the Vancouver Sun , the number of public servants earning more than $100,000 a year jumped 22 per cent between 2007 and 2009 - that was a time when the unemployment rate was heading up and everyone else's salary was going down.

Whistler council is not immune to the perception of how some workers' wages appear to the everyday person. Recently council members sent their own scheduled salary increases to a staff committee to make sure they were appropriate in these tough times.

Window dressing or genuine concern - each of us has to decide that on our own.

What we all know is that it's getting harder and harder for most of us to maintain a good standard of living on our own wages while contributing to the taxpool every year.



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