Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The myth of the pampered public sector worker

In both the US and Canada its an article of faith among the political right that public sector workers are a coddled, overpaid, over unionized group with a huge and unfair advantage over their private sector counterparts in wages and benefits. Disregarding for a moment, the question of whether such a divide should lead to raising the standards of the private sector workers rather than lowering them for public ones, do the numbers back up the premise at all?

And the answer, not too surprisingly, is that in both Canada and the US this is nothing more than a myth.

It's a myth deliberately promulgated and promoted by right wing 'pro business' groups like the CFIB, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, who incessantly trumpet shoddy studies claiming there is a huge divide in wage and benefits between government workers and private sector workers. They've been repeatedly shown to use deceptive, even imaginary numbers. They fail to account for higher education requirements for many public sector positions, wage equity laws that require equal pay and benefits for men and women and also compare all public sector workers with all private sector workers - rather than unionized public workers with unionized private sector workers. Drilling down shows that they are comparing the wages and benefits for public sector professionals like doctors or technicians with a range of private sector employees that includes minimum wage waitresses and cashiers

When these factors are added to the calculations the disparity vanishes - in fact in managerial positions the disparity is reversed.

These false numbers have been promoted so often though, that they are uncritically reported and the false assumptions about a huge, unfair gap is treated as a given by the pro-business media in a transparent attempt to drive a wedge between workers, defend right wing governments facing public sector labor negotiations and promote an ideal of a low wage service economy for all.

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