Average pay in public, private sectors comparable: Union

Public sector more equitable when measured by gender, age, region, according to CUPE study

The average pay of public-sector workers in Canada is comparable to occupations in the private sector, according to a report by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). However, the public sector is more equitable, whether measured by gender, age, occupational group or by region.

Using 2006 census data, the study, titled Battle of the Wages: Who Gets Paid More, Public or Private Sector Workers, found the average annual pay in the public sector was $49,655, 0.5 per cent higher than the private-sector average of $49,407.

“There is widespread misconception that public-sector workers are paid more than their private-sector counterparts,” said CUPE national president Paul Moist. “This report clearly dispels this myth once and for all.”

The “pay premium” of 0.5 per cent can be attributed to a smaller pay gap for women in the public sector, according to the study. On average, women employed in public-sector jobs are paid 4.5 per cent more than women in comparable occupations in the private sector: $45,821 compared to $43,841. Men in the public sector are paid an average of 5.3 per cent less: $57,318 compared to $60,531.

“Stronger pay equity rules have reduced the pay gap for women in the public sector,” says Toby Sanger, the study’s author. “If public-sector wages reflected the standards of the private sector, women in the public sector would be paid an average of $1,980 less per year and there would be greater disparities for others as well. Public-sector pay scales should reflect the broader values of Canadians.”

The study also found there are pay differences between public- and private-sector occupations at the top and bottom of the pay scales. Workers in lower paid occupations — such as cleaning, food preparation, clerks — are generally better paid in the public sector than in the private sector. On average, a cook working in the public sector was paid an average of $26,216 a year in 2006, which is 24 per cent more than the $21,089 average received by private-sector cooks.

On the other hand, higher-paid occupations — such as managers, lawyers and accountants — tend to be paid considerably less in the public sector than in the private sector. For example, engineering managers in the public sector were paid an average of $93,514 in 2006, which is 27 per cent below the average of $128,886 in the private sector.

Public-sector wage scales reduce income inequality, help stabilize the economy and should be a model for the private sector, with decent wages for the lowest paid and less excess at the top,” said Sanger. “Public-sector pay scales should reflect the broader values of Canadians.”

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