Barrett bill addresses public/private pay equity

By MPP Toby Barrett

Recently I’ve been attempting to put the spotlight on public sector compensation – not just wages but also pensions, vacation time, sick time, hours of work, early retirement, job security and other benefits – in comparison to private sector jobs.

When you factor in the perks, research indicates civil servants are 30 per cent better off than their private sector counterparts. This is not fair, and it’s expensive for taxpayers who are footing the bill.

One half of this year’s provincial spending of $128 billion is for public servant compensation. That’s $64 billion in taxpayers’ money and a 30 per cent premium over regular work. It means the Ontario government has a combined wage and benefits bill coming in $19 billion higher than if government managers and labour negotiators had kept costs at private sector levels.

Any credible plan to balance Ontario’s books must tackle the issue of overcompensation of the public sector. To quote former Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan: “We can’t manage the deficit without addressing what is the single biggest line in our budget – public sector compensation.”

To help bring public sector wages and benefits in line with the regular work world, and to provide the government with a mechanism to reduce spending in a clear and transparent manner, I introduced a bill last week titled the Comprehensive Pay Fairness Act.

The full title of this proposed legislation speaks to my purpose – An Act to promote fairness in all compensation paid to employees in the public sector as compared to the private sector and to address Ontario’s debt through alternatives to public sector layoffs and government program cuts while reducing the fiscal pressure on the people of Ontario who are having trouble paying their bills.

Given the monopoly over the provision of government services and the lack of any need to make a profit, new approaches must be explored to restore pay equity and financial balance in government.

To help right some wrongs, my proposed legislation adopts an idea from Canada’s Fraser Institute – the establishment of a wage board. To accomplish this, I propose a Comprehensive Pay Fairness Division be created within the Ontario Ministry of Finance.

The Pay Fairness Division would work as an independent and transparent body responsible for collecting, analyzing and reporting public sector compensation compared to private sector equivalents. The goal is to take the politics and the bias out of the process and to also better match wages to projected government revenue and expenditures.

The pay fairness division will also present information on recent arbitration rulings and collective agreements in both public and private labour markets across Canada. The Comprehensive Pay Fairness Act has teeth and will require arbitrators to consider these comprehensive compensation comparables.

The act also indicates government’s responsibility and objectives to fully engage, consult and conduct genuine and constructive negotiations with public sector workers on these legislative changes to collective bargaining and compensation. Government’s obligation is key given recent Supreme Court decisions when it comes to government-directed changes to public sector compensation.

The Comprehensive Pay Fairness Act addresses compensation and negotiation within the broader public-sector including hospital workers, teachers, municipal employees, provincial judges and MPPs.

Taxpayers tell me they are tired of paying more and getting less.