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July 17, 2021

Are public sector workers overpaid?

By Gordon Powers, Sympatico / MSN Finance

As the economy continues to crumble, the debate surrounding provincial and municipal governments’ ability to set wages at an appropriate level is really heating up. And one of the really hot issues is the growing compensation gap between public- and private-sector jobs. 

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, public-sector workers across Canada earn 8 per cent to 17 per cent more than people with similar jobs in the private sector. When shorter work weeks and other benefits are taken into account, the number rises to more than 30 per cent.

The public-sector wage advantage is now 11.9 per cent for municipal workers, 7.9 per cent for provincial workers and 17.3 per cent for federal workers. On average, the annual pay of provincial employees is $52,863 while that of equivalent private sector workers is $49,002, according to CFIB data. 

The findings of this latest study not only confirm previous research, but suggest that governments as a group are losing control of their employment costs — particularly benefits — thus forcing taxes up unnecessarily, the CFIB argues.

Critics of the study, while acknowledging that a wage gap does exist, suggest the disparity is based on the strengths of unionization, not on red-herring distinctions between public versus private.

In fact, the real issue – what constitutes a fair wage for Canadians – gets lost in the shuffle, says Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett: “To buy into the CFIB argument that public-sector wages are overly generous, you'd have to accept that the lower private-sector wages it espouses provide workers with a real living. And that's just not true.” 

Most Canadians are falling further and further behind in their desperate bid to keep up to the cost of living. If there's an argument for tax relief, it’s at the bottom-most rungs of the income tax system, he says, maintaining that the problem lies not with public sector costs but with the cut-price wages paid by the CFIB’s constituents.

What do you think: Are public sector workers overpaid?



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...