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Wage freezes and banked sick days

Teachers are in the news for all the wrong reasons as we kick off back to school season and it could well be said that their collective reputation amongst Canadian taxpayers is hitting an all-time low. The self-proclaimed “Education Premier” Dalton McGuinty has put teachers’ compensation levels squarely in the public eye and now both the government and the various teacher unions will begin the eternal struggle for public perception.

The facts of the situation are this:

  1. The government of Ontario is desperately trying to slay a $15 billion deficit as their formerly robust manufacturing economy decays under the weight of a Canadian dollar that stubbornly erodes any competitive advantage it used to enjoy.
  2. Teachers are being asked to take a wage freeze for two years, take 3 unpaid PD days (about 1.5% salary hit) and to completely restructure their sick day’s package which currently allows teachers to take a “sick days payout” that is a percentage of what a teacher would have been compensated for had they simply taken all of the sick days available.
  3. The Catholicsub-section of Ontario teachers has already accepted a version of the proposed changes. As one might imagine, the other teacher unions are not too happy about this development.
  4. The teachers in Ontario (and across several other provinces in Canada) enjoyed nice pay bumps over the last few years as many private sectors of the economy got clobbered by events beyond their control. Dalton was their boy, and a jilted lover is a dangerous opponent indeed.
  5. A recent survey done by Mercer claims that non-union workers across Canada can expect wage increases of 3.2% this year. This was an interesting statistic for me since I would have thought the number to be much lower, and much less favourable to the teachers’ cause.

So what am I supposed to think as both a young teacher and a young taxpayer? The truth is that my feelings are mixed. The sick day’s ordeal must look terrible to the average worker. On the surface, getting paid for days you didn’t work seems absolutely ridiculous. Only if you have seen the blatant abuse of compensation that exists in the public field might you reconsider this notion.

I have personally seen many public employees develop a bad back or a work-induced anxiety breakdown at the 54- or 53-old mark. As long as you can find a doctor willing to cooperate (not too hard in my totally uneducated opinion) you could easily soak up 100% of those sick days and cost several classes of students a great deal.

The incentive of payouts is meant to curb these abuses and ultimately benefit the students. We don’t have anything like the sick day’s payout here in Manitoba that I am aware of, and I can understand the outrage at the idea, but I do understand the rationale behind it.

How can you put a price on knowledge? My union will tell you how…

As to the discussion over salary I always find the comments section of these types of news stories very interesting. It’s easy to forget that everyone is an expert online (says the guy who blogs anonymously), but boy do some of the opinions exchanged in comment sections make me laugh at their ridiculousness either one way or the other.

The honest truth is that it is incredibly difficult to quantify the value of a teacher to society. I could easily make an argument for a good teacher being worth $150,000 in terms of steering the youth of tomorrow away from lives that would have been a huge burden to taxpayers, and into productive lifestyles. I could also make the case that MANY teachers out there should be paid minimum-wage style wages as compensation for their sub-standard babysitting efforts.

So how do you remain fair to everyone, and are the current wage freeze demands acceptable given the current economic climate? I personally believe that teachers are getting paid fairly well at the moment, and a two-year freeze wouldn’t be the end of the world, but at the same time, I’m not giving back any of my paychecks to the Manitoba government that just signed on to give us some pretty sweet raises over the next two years.

A solution?

The whole discussion and the venom being spewed by both sides takes me back to my incredibly simple proposal that would solve a lot of these problems. Could we not simply have the ultimate debate about what teachers should be paid, what their ultimate value to society is, and then peg in wage increases relative to inflation from there?

I realize this wouldn’t be a small endeavour originally, but wouldn’t the benefits be huge in terms of relations between taxpayers and teachers? The RCMP works under a model of automatic calculation so there is somewhat of a precedent (even though their model is drastically different than what I propose). If we decide that as of 2012 a teacher with two degrees and 10 years of experience is worth $75,000, and then simply peg them in at the rate GDP rises, or a combination of metrics. Wouldn’t that be much simpler and easy to agree upon? Imagine the costs each side could save in negotiation fees and salaries alone!

Sadly enough, that’s probably why my proposal will never even be considered by the powers that be, the people doing the talking have all the incentive in the world to keep talking as long as possible…


  1. Ashley

    Why is it that whenever the government mismanages money it’s always teachers/nurses/police and fire that have to take wage cuts and freezes? These people have to fight tooth and nail for any raise they get and as soon as it’s time for cuts BANG it completely disappears.

    How come we never see politicians offering to take a cut or freeze?

    • TM @ My University Money

      I hear you Ashley, but it’s a tough argument to make when you compare it to the private sector right now. The bottom line is that those public employees you labelled are huge parts of the government budget and they have outpaced inflation over the last several years.

      I definitely agree with you about politicians, but in defence of the NDP government here in MB (that will likely be the first and only time I ever utter that sentence) they have in fact taken a cut! The bottom line is that with an automated plan, if the economy didn’t grow, it would be an automatic pay freeze for teachers, and if the public sector did great and subsequently paid more taxes then teachers wages would rise accordingly.

  2. Aardvark

    fantastic post on a polarizing topic. Collective bargaining is so costly I think you might be on to something by having an automatic calculation like this. However there’s no way the union would buy it, since according to them they are the only thing saving workers from utter destruction.

    I’m not sure you’re correct on your sick days logic above. The payout does not preclude the debilitated employee from collecting disability benefits I think. Your sociopathic example could do this even with the current payout scheme. The solution to that problem is to curb fraud, not to offer a sweet payout.

    • TM @ My University Money

      Thanks Aardvark! I understand the reason for collective bargaining, but we have to do something to fix the incentives that currently exist for both sides respective negotiation teams to make themselves look so good by negotiating 24/7 while sticking a proverbial gun to the head of public education.

      The payout isn’t in regards to the disability payments which they can still game (at x% of their wage), it’s to prevent teachers from taking all 130 odd sick days in their last year of teaching at 100% of their wage.

  3. John

    How about teachers work a full year like the rest of the work force. They sure could get a lot of prep done during July and August instead of soaking up the sun and still being paid. Yep they r paid a 12 month salary over a 10month time period.

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