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Pam Frampton: Living in the red

["Confederation Building in St. John's"]
Confederation Building — the buck stops there.

It’s often been said that if households were run the way governments are, there’d be a lot more personal bankruptcies.

 

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton

 

If every month, for example, I overshot my home internet usage and ended up paying extra, it wouldn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that I either needed to curb my time online or else get an unlimited usage package — if I could afford one.

If I’m budgeting $300 a month for groceries but spending $600, then I’d have to find a way to spend less on food or something else.

And I don’t have a years-long window to get my house in order. So why haven’t consecutive provincial governments done more to address glaring areas of over-spending?

But this government has a self-acknowledged spending problem and overtime is one obvious area that should be addressed — and should have been, long before this province was pushed to the fiscal precipice it’s now teetering on.

Two weeks ago, I wrote the Department of Transportation and Works to ask why so much overtime was being racked up in the marine transportation sector. In some cases, people are making more in overtime than they are in regular salary. I asked if it wouldn’t make more sense to hire two deckhands, say, at $45,200 each annually than to have one work so many hours as to end up being paid roughly $110,000 last year.

Transportation and Works responded to say that vessels must be properly staffed and overtime paid according to the collective agreement.

Well, of course. No one’s disputing that.

The statement also said, “The Department of Transportation and Works is continuously conducting recruitment efforts for marine services staff; however, the reality is that many of these positions have specific required qualifications that are not widely available in the labour market. The department must also compete with the private sector in recruiting qualified individuals, which is also challenging.”

You wouldn’t think finding people with the proper qualifications would be too difficult in a province that has publicly funded institutions training people to work in the marine transportation system, including navigation officers, deckhands, captains and first mates. It’s an area where this province has solid expertise.

According to positions offered with the Canadian Coast Guard, a deckhand earns roughly $49,000, which is not too far off what the provincial government is offering — unless, of course, you consider that a job with this province comes with the opportunity to earn more than your salary in overtime.

If the province can’t compete with the private sector, then maybe it needs to revisit its pay scales, but surely it would never need come close to what people are being paid now as a combination of overtime and salary.

And there are hefty overtime payments in other areas, as well, including health, where a psychiatric registered nurse, for example, might earn well over double his or her salary in one year. In the justice sector in 2016, it was not uncommon for a police constable to work enough overtime to earn a third or more again of his or her salary.

Lest anyone accuse me of begrudging people their hard-earned pay, I don’t doubt the work is important and necessary.

But this government has a self-acknowledged spending problem and overtime is one obvious area that should be addressed — and should have been, long before this province was pushed to the fiscal precipice it’s now teetering on.

The other consideration, of course, in all the overtime being worked, is safety. Are some members of the public service working too long and too hard and jeopardizing their own health — both mental and physical — or even public safety as well?

Look, we all know that in politics there’s much more incentive to spend money than to save it; politicians want to get re-elected.

Anyone remember how long it took the then Tory government to address some of the exorbitant salaries at the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health information, where the auditor general determined that people were getting paid substantially more for doing the same level of work of civil servants in core government departments?

But whoever’s in power, the bottom line is the same: we’re headed for broke and we’ll get there, unless the government manages the public treasury with a heck of a lot more prudence.

 

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

 

 

 

 

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