Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dear Jim

"[Canada’s Finance Minister] warned public-sector workers they cannot expect big wage hikes in the next round of bargaining for contracts."
- The Canadian Press - October 29, 2008

Dear Jim,

Thanks for the warning but it wasn’t really necessary. I’ve been tempering my wage expectations ever since I joined the federal public service twenty-six-and-a-half years ago. Not to worry; I don’t expect a big wage hike. In fact, after your public announcement, I’m really not sure if I should expect any salary increase at all.

You see, after all these years, I’ve learned one thing about working for the feds. Whether times are good or times are bad, the government in power takes it out on public sector employees. When times are bad, we’re all supposed to be thankful we have a job, bite the bullet and sacrifice for the greater good. When times are good, we’re expected to do more with less in order to help the government reduce the debt, increase productivity, set an example for the country or any number of other excuses.

In bad times, public sector workers are expected to be the leading edge of fiscal restraint. We’re told that we should cut back to set the tone for the rest of the workforce. We’re given assurances that when economic good times return, we’ll be suitably rewarded. And when the good times do return, we are Canada’s forgotten workers.

After years of abuse and belittlement, I know better than to ask for much. Ever since 1991, I consider myself lucky to get anything, much less a "big wage hike."

Longtime federal employees remember 1991. That’s when your predecessor Tory government offered us wage increases of zero, three and three per cent for the following three years. We went out on strike, the employer agreed to change its offer, then reneged and in the end passed legislation imposing a zero and three per cent settlement on us for the next two years.

After that, things just went downhill. We never got that initially offered second three per cent increase. Instead, the government passed legislation which effectively froze our wages for the next four years. Even when so-called collective bargaining resumed in 1997, we were lucky to get two per cent per year from that point on.

To make matters worse, the employer doesn’t even bother to negotiate in good faith. Collective agreements end and deadlines expire and we still don’t get an agreement. As things currently stand, I’ve been without a wage agreement for almost a year and a half. And that’s pretty much business as usual when dealing with your predecessors.

The sad reality is that retired government workers are better off than current employees. Those who retired in 1991, for example, have been getting annual cost of living increases tacked on to their pensions. That sure beats the hell out of a wage freeze and is often better than the miserly two per cent Treasury Board usually doles out.

The reality is that someone retiring from the federal public service seventeen years ago with a full pension (i.e. - 70% of one’s salary) getting a cost of living increase every year is making almost as much as the poor sap who stayed working in that position all those years. I’m not complaining about the superannuate’s pension. After all, he or she paid for that indexation while working. But you have to admit that it’s at least a little unfair that the poor employee struggling through those years of downsizing and increasing work pressures received far less.

Then again, I guess no one has to admit anything. It’s pretty much the same old story. When the treasury is flush, don’t bother rewarding your workers. And when the economy suffers, bring out your favorite whipping boy - the federal public service.

Here’s a deal to consider. Don’t give me a "big wage hike." I’m not sure my heart could take the surprise anyway. Instead, just give me two per cent. After all, apart from six years of wage freezes, that’s all I’ve known for the last two decades. You’ll get to show Canadians that you’re being tough on all those spoiled government workers and I can treat myself to a new shirt to replace the one missing from my back.

No comments: