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The wage gap

What is a person worth?

A process supervisor for the city of Hamilton made $111,396.82 in 2013; a water distribution operator pocketed $127,019.80, while a city clerk took home $134,831.25.

Yet a detective constable made $112,967.70 and a firefighter earned $103,623.29.

Salaries and how much a person should earn is a delicate, complicated and compelling question that raises all sorts of philosophical and ideological issue. The pay question has become even more of a minefield at a time when the global wealth disparity has become so acute.

The average North American family makes about $51,000 a year, 9 per cent lower than its inflation-adjusted peak in 1999 at $56,000. In contrast, a survey of North American chief executives found their pay jumped by an average of 8.5 per cent in the last year.

In Hamilton, the rising number of municipal employees making $100,000 and over has continuously jumped since amalgamation, rubbing salt into old wounds. When the merger occurred, the government assured residents the new city would foster better efficiency and produce cost savings. Yet the number of city employees making $100,000 grew in 2013 from 818 to 848. Just over half of them were city, fire, and paramedic workers with the rest working for the police.

There has been an appeal that the $100,000 club should be restructured. A salary of $100,000 in 1996, adjusted for inflation, is now equivalent to $141,000, and a person who made $71,000 in 1996 dollars would be taking home $100,000 in today’s money. For some people the argument is spurious. The majority of Hamiltonians, and for that matter the majority of Ontarians, will never come close to earning $100,000 a year in their lifetimes, so the figure becomes an unattainable goal and a proper measuring stick. But it’s also a thumb in the eye to those people who have to pay for those ever-rising salaries while their earnings have stagnated or gone down.

The debate about whether those 98,000 Ontario workers in the public service are worthy of their $100,000 plus salaries should be front and centre when discussing the value homeowners are receiving.

The debates may be sensitive for those people in the $100,000 club, but it is a very real concern for those people who are paying, and receiving less than quality service. All you have to do is look at what the public has had to endure over the years: the eHealth scandal, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming problems, the Ornge debacle, and in Hamilton, the constant problems among the public sector workers and the ongoing issues with various police officers. Police officer David Doel, who was fighting 14 counts of misconduct Police Act violations, earned $134,530.24, until he retired last year sixth months shy of receiving his full benefit package.

That public concern is packed with mind-numbing figures. Multiply the 98,000 people on the 2014 Sunshine list and the price tag soars to at least $9,8000,000,000. Some of those people, especially in the health care sector make far more than the $100,000 minimum.

As the wage gap between the haves and have-nots grow exponentially within society, it’s becoming even more disconcerting when local government officials’ salaries become a burden to taxpayers. Not only is there is an undue financial pressure, but democracy is threatened, further alienating the public form its own government.

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