Equal work for unequal reward

Brian Jones
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The gaps keep growing. The most often talked about gap is the widening one between the rich and the poor — although “the poor” is an inaccurate and insulting term that should be changed to “the unrich,” as in “the rich are getting richer and the unrich are getting unricher.”

But never mind the people who have yachts, beachhouses and investment portfolios as thick as a Tory backbencher.

There are also growing gaps among the multitudes of unrich, i.e., people who work for a living rather than live off the avails of unfettered capitalism.

There is a gap between unionized and non-unionized workers. There is a gap between employees who have a pension plan and those who don’t.

And there is a vast gap between public-sector workers and private-sector workers.

The provincial government and various public-sector unions put on a show and congratulated themselves this week for reaching an agreement about funding pensions.

The pension plan for that group of public servants has an unfunded liability of about $4 billion.

“Unfunded liability” is economists’ jargon for “shortfall.”

If you write a cheque for $100, but have only $10 in your chequing account, your unfunded liability, i.e., shortfall in funds, is $90, and your arithmetic skills are questionable enough that you could have a future in politics.

Fortunately, a solution for the shortfall was found. The government will put more money into the pension fund.

The unions agreed that their members will put more money into the pension fund. The sun shone and children played.

Except that the vast chasm between public-sector workers and private-sector workers remains intact.

Public-sector workers and their union leaders deny it and loathe to have it pointed out, but they enjoy estimable benefits that most other people don’t have a hope of attaining.

Work for 30 years and retire with a full pension at age 55? Most employees in the private sector would face another 10 years of toil.

One of the unions’ concessions was that a full pension would henceforth be obtainable at age 58 rather than 55.

Even so, Freedom 58 has a nice ring to it — if a public servant’s knees, hips and mind are in good shape, he or she can enjoy seven years of retirement before the average private-sector wage earner punches out for the last time.

(At this point, angry emails are being composed: “We work hard for our benefits.” Which implies that other people don’t.)

The unions agreed that their members’ pensions would be calculated on their six best-paid years rather than their five best-paid years. Not many private-sector workers have this perk, and instead have their pension calculated according to what they put in over the course of 30 or more years, including their lower-paid early years.

Public-sector union leaders and many of their members often respond to such observations by saying they merely have benefits that everyone should have. They would be right, if the hard-knocks economy existed in la-la land. But in the real world, when private-sector employees tell their boss they want to retire at age 58, or they want their pension calculated on their six best-paid years of employment, the reply invariably is, “Who do you think we are? The government?”

Public-sector union leaders need to get a grip on a basic truism: demanding something from a corporation is a whole different kettle of cash than demanding something from a government.

And they should stop implying that everyone else is jealous, bitter or incompetent.

“If you want what we have, go out and work for it.”

The unrich hear enough of that condescension from the rich. Sure, we’ll go work for it, right after we finish shopping for a new yacht.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com and can be found on Facebook.

Organizations: The Telegram

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Recent comments

  • TWhite
    September 05, 2014 - 20:19

    Facepalm: How can someone be so out of touch? In many cases ununionized companies are ahead of unionized. Want some examples? There are plenty, including pensions and medical benefits. When did you write this article? 1982? Sure you obviously have an NDP streak, however I don't recall seeing you in a Orange tutu down at the Regatta. My wife, who's entirely "non-political" saw your NDP booth and asked "no, seriously, these fools jumping around in orange tutus want to run the Province?" To which I responded "yes, but you have to make your own tie-dyed t-shirt and hemp knapsack". You want to do better Brian, get outta bed, educate yourself, take risks like the rest of us do to get ahead. You want to keep writing sophomoric articles and get Pulitzer Prize remuneration? Write better stuff. In the meantime, those of us who get outta bed a 5, and push ourselves to get ahead, take risks, create new, and energize economies will come visit you in Cuba if you wish.

  • Stephen
    September 05, 2014 - 19:50

    My wife and I are both public sector employees. And I promise, we are far from rich. I agree the divide between union and non union employees is growing. Simultaneously (and paradoxically) union membership is decreasing. We need good ideas to fix the problems you highlighted. We need things like portable pensions, so everyone can retire earlier. We need increased union presence in vulnerable areas like the service industry. We need better health care coverage which includes prescription medication. We need better disability protection for workers. Sir, I find your attack on the public service distasteful. As an editor, I'd expected you to have a better grasp of the issue. Public sector unions are not the problem. They may have, in fact, stumbled upon the answer. Good luck sir.

  • Too Funny
    September 05, 2014 - 16:14

    “Unfunded liability” is economists’ jargon for “shortfall.”. That's a term used by accountants or other business people, not economists. Just a little piece of trivia for ya.

  • bill
    September 05, 2014 - 14:29

    Gene Simmons said it best. You wanna be rich, work 140 hours a week. If you're not willing to do that, then you don't want it bad enough.