Shameless public sector unions up the ante

Already better compensated and more secure in their respective positions than their private sector counterparts, public sector employees – at least, the unions that represent them – are coming back to the taxpayer trough for yet more feed. Photo credit: PSAC


Recent weeks have seen a veritable frenzy of public sector unions demanding outrageous pay increases and threatening various forms of job action if their demands are not met. 

Federal government unions have been in the forefront with wage increase demands ranging from 18 per cent to an eye-watering 47 per cent over a three-year period. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the largest government union of the bunch, has also threatened a government strike. Some other demands have also been made, such as an overtime rate increase from 1.5 times the regular rate to 2 times that rate. PSAC is also quite disgruntled that federal government employees should be expected to actually go into the office for a whole two to three days per week after their undoubtably enjoyable pandemic work-from-home years. 

Whatever pay increases and other perks the federal unions ultimately achieve will not only affect that level of government but will also set the bar for their provincial and municipal counterparts, so these negotiations are critical.

Coincidentally, the Fraser Institute also recently released one of their regular studies comparing private and public sector compensation. This report specifically looked at all levels of government in Ontario and found that the average public sector employee received 10.9 per cent more on average than their private sector counterpart. This is only the wage differential, and the analysis also found that 83.9 per cent of government workers had a registered pension plan compared to 25.1 per cent of private sector workers, and that in the public sector almost 95 per cent of those with pensions had the immense privilege of a guaranteed defined-benefit pension where the comparable private sector proportion was 36.9 per cent. 

Ontario government workers also retired on average 2.5 years earlier than the private sector, and took almost double the sick or personal days leave – 14 days annually versus 8.8 days. Job security is also much better in the public sector, as the study found that in 2021, 5.5 per cent of private sector lost their jobs in Ontario compared to only 1.3 per cent in government. The pandemic certainly emphasized the value of job security, as public sector workers never missed a paycheque even though many weren’t even working for months on end. This report’s findings are not at all unusual, but rather very consistent with other studies on public/private sector compensation differences for past years and for other parts of Canada. 

Given all of the extensive evidence that government workers are already immensely well paid at the expense of taxpayers, who rarely enjoy the same compensation and benefits, it was quite shocking to recently see the CAO for St. Catharines, David Oakes, state that he was looking to increase “sub-par compensation” among city employees, and hire even more of them. In light of the actual facts, it would be truly interesting to see exactly where these government employees who supposedly have “sub-par” compensation are located. Or if they exist at all.

Does any politician these days even give a thought to the private sector taxpayers paying the bills and struggling to fund a decent retirement for themselves while enabling gold-plated government pay and pensions?  

Labour force statistics also show that there has been a hiring binge underway in the government sector over the last couple of years. So not only are these public employees very well paid, there are also lots more of them. At the federal level alone, the number of employees grew by over 35,000 from 2019-2022, a 12 per cent increase. An additional 28,000 federal workers were on long-term leave in 2022, and although they would not receive their full salary, they would still be able to tap into taxpayers for various top-ups, pension contributions and other benefits. 

As governments boasted about job numbers “bouncing back” post-pandemic, the economic story became much less rosy once it was clear the majority of these jobs were in government. Excessive growth in government employment at a time of tight labour markets as baby-boomers retire and various skills shortages become acute means governments are “crowding out” the productive private sector companies which also need workers. 

Government employment expanding faster than the private sector that pays for government and faster than the economy is growing is never a healthy or sustainable trend. Unsurprisingly, federal government growth rates started increasing when the Trudeau Liberal government was elected in 2015, and accelerated even more during the pandemic.  

One of PSAC’s threats is that they are considering striking against “the employer”. Well, the employer is us, the beleaguered private sector taxpayer. Considering the overwhelming evidence of public sector worker privilege, it’s high time we the majority push back hard against these outrageous demands and support any government that makes the right choice to refuse to accept unreasonable union demands. As for strike threats, private sector taxpayers are the ones who should be going on strike until some fairness and financial sanity is achieved.  

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