Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Big raises for top goverment managers not out of line

VICTORIA - It’s traditional that government news releases on controversial topics - like pay raises for senior managers and political staffers - are dropped on Friday, often late in the day.
It usually works. There’s not much time to work up a story for the next day’s paper or that evening’s newscast. By Monday, the media - with its short attention span - has moved on.
Premier Gordon Campbell’s announcement of big raises for top government managers and political staffers was made on a summer Friday. Some political staffers would be eligible for 25-per-cent pay raises under the new plan. Senior managers would be eligible for raises of up to 40 per cent under the new grids.
Big jumps are the norm for senior managers. Dan Miller, as NDP premier, approved increases of almost 30 per cent for some managers in 2000. Campbell moved to bump some wages up by another 30 per cent in the next year.
It’s not a particularly effective way of managing pay scales. And now it’s happening again.
Should you be worried? A little, but not about the pay grid. The maximum salaries for deputy ministers - CEOs of very large organizations - goes up nine per cent, to $220,000.
That’s very good pay. But it’s still likely too little to ensure that B.C. can attract the very best candidates for the top jobs in critical ministries. It’s certainly not an excessive rate of pay for a good candidate to fill the vacancy at the top of the health ministry, for example, responsible for managing a vast enterprise.
Assistant deputy ministers - another 100 or so people one level down - also get a sharp increase in the pay grid. They max out at $160,000. Again, the pay is not too much for the responsibility in some of the jobs.
You can quarrel with the whole idea that people should make more than some arbitrary ceiling, but you can’t really make a strong case against these kinds of pay rates. The government says the new put B.C. in the middle of the pack among provinces.
You can be nervous about administration. Higher pay should mean higher demands for performance and greater accountability. It’s not clear that that the principle is clearly established in government. and there is always the risk that pay for all managers - not just those in the most demanding jobs - will creep upward.
You can also be nervous about the increases for political appointments. Pay scales jump from 13 per cent to 26 per cent. Assistants to ministers will be paid up to $94,500; executive assistants to ministers will be paid up to $68,400. (MLAs are paid about $75,000.)
The political increases are harder to justify. The jobs are demanding - especially for the people working with some ministers. But there has been no evidence offered that pay rates are making it impossible to attract and retain good employees. The new levels appear high compared to private sector equivalents and take B.C.’s pay for political appointees is now the third highest in Canada. The government hasn’t made a good case for the increases.
The latest raises mean just about everyone getting money from the government has had some sort of pay increase, from deputy ministers to health care workers to teachers.
But not MLAs. Their sneak attempt to award themselves a large pay raise and an extremely expensive pension plan fell apart in bitterness last fall. The deal had all been done behind closed doors and was set to be rushed through the legislature without debate or time for public reaction. But NDP leader Carole James, who had promised her party’s support, reneged. The Liberals were furious, and some New Democrat MLAs were just as peeved.
The angry Liberals said they weren’t going to talk about MLA pay increases again.
And despite some pressure from within, they’re likely going to stick to that position. MLAs will have to be content with their regular cost-of-living increases.
Footnote: What do these people do? Think of a deputy minister as the CEO of the ministry, responsible for its success, and deputy ministers as vice-presidents. They’re supposed to be non-partisan professional managers. Political staff - ministerial assistants and the like - are picked for party loyalty as well as their ability to help the minister deal with issues.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to compare the new grid levels of all the communication 'specialists' who were moved out of the public service and forced to become political appointees - what are they getting now as political appointees and what would they be getting if Go_d had not forced them out of the public service.