A public versus private issue 

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Every year the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) releases the Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) at this time.

And every year it raises my eyebrows as I consider how much local government employees get paid.

The top earner in the 2014 report is RMOW CAO Mike Furey at $209,000 — a fair wage for a position that stickhandles a town that produces over a million dollars a day in taxes for all levels of government.

This year, for the first time, the RMOW has more than 100 employees on the report.

But before you start to splutter in consternation, one thing has to be made clear about this year's SOFI — it has folded into it the financial payouts for changes the RMOW made to the way it runs its banked sick days and banked vacation days. The change will result in a net savings to the RMOW in the long run, thus saving all taxpayers money.

And it reflects the $1.5 million in staff wage increases over the RMOW's four-year agreement with the majority of its employees.

The agreement spans 2012 to 2015 with a 6.75 per cent salary increase in that time.

However, it has resulted in some very large numbers for some employees like the director of human resources, whose remuneration is at $188,476 (2013 — $138,265). The director of finance got $176,388 (2013 — $120,189), while the supervisor of capital projects received $141,203 (2013 — $97,116).

Other numbers that catch the eye — our Village Animation Coordinator got $92,866 (2013 — $75,205), a Plan Checker (a newly listed position in 2014, and a posting is up for a Plan Checker II job) got $76,246 and pretty well all our firefighters got over $100,000.

Mentioning these positions and their remuneration is in no way meant to denigrate our village staff or the work they do, but there is no getting away from the fact that taxpayer-funded wages in the public sector appear very healthy when you are looking in from the outside. The median employment income in Whistler, according to the most statistics, is $42,605.

Is there a bit of sour grapes in the observations? Maybe. But there is also an underlying understanding that they represent wages that allow families and workers to live here well. And this is something that non-public sector workers yearn for, and are vocal about.

It is at the root of the push to ask for a living-wage payment system, for the push at the provincial level to get a higher minimum wage.

This week also saw the release of a new report by the Fraser Institute. It found that government employees in Canada receive higher wages and likely more generous non-wage benefits than their private-sector counterparts.

Using Statistics Canada's Labour Force Survey data from January to December 2013, the study calculated that federal, provincial and local government employees received 9.7 per cent higher wages, on average, than comparable employees in the private sector.

This wage premium accounts for differences among individual employees such as age, gender, marital status, education, tenure, type of work, size of establishment, industry, and occupation. When unionization is accounted for, the government-sector wage premium drops to 6.2 per cent.

The right-wing think tank also found that the government sector as a whole enjoys superior non-wage benefits including pensions, early retirement opportunities, job security and greater absence rates.

"Regardless of what measure you use, it seems like government workers in the province are getting a very big wage premium relative to their private sector counterparts," said Charles Lammam, one of the study's co-authors.

Added Jason Clemens, executive vice-president of the Fraser Institute and co-author of the study, "If governments want to better control spending to rein in deficits and debt, one option is to ensure compensation paid to government employees broadly reflects private-sector compensation for similar positions."

The position was countered by Paul Faoro, CUPE BC Secretary-Treasurer, who called the study "spin," in a Global News interview.

"What the Fraser Institute really wants to say is that they want workers to work more, earn less and retire in poverty," he said.

"I would argue that what the Fraser Institute should be doing is trying to figure out a way of actually lifting people up who are almost in poverty, rather than push people down. We should actually be working collectively, trying to find a way that everybody earns a decent living."

According to Ted Mallett, VP and chief economist at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business among the big public sector employers, the federal government has the largest gaps, with a salary premium of 13.0 per cent, which grows to 33.2 per cent once benefits are taken into account.

Premiums paid to municipal employees are almost as severe — 8.9 per cent (22.3 per cent with benefits).

Provincial governments, as a group, appear to have a little more control over salary premiums at 5.5 per cent, but benefits bring the gap rises to 21.2 per cent with benefits factored in.

You can find the public SOFI report at www.whistler.ca — follow the links to reports.

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