Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Campbell’s raises a poke in eye for public

There is no way in the world Gordon Campbell can justify the giant pay increases just handed to government senior managers.
Not that he bothered to try.
No owner of private business would throw his own money around so irresponsibly. A corporate exec who did would be grilled by the board.
About 150 people are eligible the big increases. Assistant deputy ministers are in line for retroactive raises of 22 per cent, in one jump. The new top rate of pay for the job is $195,000.
Deputy ministers - the chief operating officers of ministries - are in line for 35-per-cent raises, taking them to $299,215.
And the deputy minister to the premier, the top manager in government, gets a 43-per-cent raise in pay scale, from $240,000 to $348,600. That's a $108,600 raise, equivalent to seven years of full-time work at minimum wage.
Organizations sometimes have to pay big money to get the best talent. That's why some NHL team will end up paying Mats Sundin $8 million a year to play hockey.
And market forces could apply equally to the need to pay a big premium to attract the best scientists, doctors - or managers.
But well-managed organizations only spend the money when they have to.
The Campbell government has offered no argument that it needs to send salaries skyward to attract competent people. The only justification offered in the news release on the increases was a desire to make B.C.'s pay scale for top managers one of the highest of any government in Canada.
In fact, the government didn't issue the release until a Friday after the increases had already taken effect. Campbell was off in China, unable to explain or defend the huge pay hikes. The best other government reps could do was note that not all senior managers would necessarily get the raises.
There was apparently some sort of salary review, but the government hasn't released it.
These are not catch-up increases, needed because pay scales have been neglected.
Managers have been getting raises every year. And just two years ago, the government announced major increases and the promise that the pay scales would stand until 2010.
In that round of raises, the top pay for deputy ministers was increased by nine per cent and for assistant deputy ministers by 40 per cent.
So, since the 2005 election the government has handed senior managers pay scale increases of 50 per cent to 70 per cent.
But there has been no evidence of high turnover or difficulty filling these positions. While some of the jobs are demanding, the compensation - before these extraordinary increases - put them in the top one or two per cent of wage earners. And many of the jobs don't pose the kind of challenges that justify the pay scale.
And the incumbents all took the jobs knowing what the pay scales were and presumably considering it acceptable.
The cost of the increases is estimated at some $4 million a year.
But that's just the start. The government increased pay for MLAs by 29 per cent - and the premier by 54 per cent - last year. Defenders of the increase noted that elected representatives were falling behind the bureaucrats. This opens the door for more increases.
And everyone working in government, starting with managers one level below, can now make the argument that they too need increases for just the same reasons.
The raises, and the way they were introduced, show a remarkable disdain for the public. Campbell had to know that there would be anger and concern.
Yet he made no effort to explain, defend or justify the extraordinary windfall for those at the top of the public service period. There was no indication that government even felt a need to justify its actions.
It's a far cry from the political party that campaigned in 2001 on the need for accountability and responsibility in spending taxpayers' money.
Footnote: The whole affair should be discouraging for the NDP, which has made a questionable pledge to roll back the increases. It suggests the Liberals feel they can thumb their noses at the public and still win next May's election.


Anonymous said...

I have the feeling that when it comes to unionized employees at the bottom it will be a legislated settlement of 0 and 0 and 2 because they will say they are overpaid

Raymond Graham said...

Actually , when you really think about it, the argument that the bigger salaries are needed to attract the most competent people would tend to reflect on the competence of those who were already in the positions at the lower salaries. Wouldn't it?