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July 9, 2010

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Jones reading from the wrong page; Columnist distorts facts with CFIB study; pension tirade 'alarmist'

The following article appeared in the Province newspaper on July 8, 2010.

Laura Jones' call to slash public-sector wages and benefits ( "Time to get really big elephant out of Canada's living room," July 1) is the latest attempt by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business to manipulate research in order to bad-mouth workers who provide public services that are the bedrock of our communities.

Jones' claim that rolling back the wages of public employees will solve the pension and retirement-savings crisis facing so many Canadians is as preposterous as it is malicious.

The CFIB's Wage Watch study that Jones relies on -- but never attributes -- distorts the truth in various ways. It selectively excludes more than half of the public-sector workforce and exaggerates wage differences for the remainder.

It also makes no adjustment for other major factors that influence wage levels: education, skills and experience, unionization, the size of the employer and even the size of the city where the workers live. Each of these factors on its own could explain the difference in wages, but such information would undermine Jones' ideological diatribe.

If you take a look at the same information the CFIB used -- detailed census data from Statistics Canada -- overall results show a different picture from the CFIB's doomsday scenario.

Overall results for all occupations show that average wages and salaries between public and private sectors are similar.

Including all age groups, all occupations and both men and women, the overall average is within one or two per cent. The national averages show that public-sector wages and salaries are about two per cent higher -- not the 42 per cent Ms. Jones invents to inspire outrage.

The big differences for the public sector are for younger workers and women. For workers aged 41 or older in the public-sector workforce, average wages are lower than in the private sector.

For women, the big difference is pay equity. Federal and provincial public-sector employers must provide equal pay for work of equal value.

On the other hand, many women in the private sector face economic discrimination and are underpaid.

The inconvenient truth for the CFIB is that the public sector pays relatively more than the private sector for traditionally under-valued occupations, while the private sector pays much more at the top end.

Ergo: there is much greater equality of wages in the public sector.

The other problem with Jones' column is her attempt to weave the CFIB's bogus wage study into an alarmist tirade against raising Canada Pension Plan benefits.

CUPE and the Canadian Labour Congress are pushing for improvements to the CPP to benefit all workers -- especially the lowest paid -- because we believe that all workers deserve a decent retirement.

Perhaps the CFIB would be more productive if it showed the same willingness as labour to begin a serious dialogue on finding solutions for the economy.

Over the past couple of years, at public forums and luncheon events where I've met with local small-business people and chambers of commerce, I've noticed a lot of interest from the private sector in exploring alternatives to the usual revenue streams.

These alternatives include microeconomic initiatives such as import substitution and local economic multipliers that do not require the gutting of the public sector or slashing of workers' wages and benefits.

We're willing to do the hard work of finding solutions.

When will the CFIB show the same faith?

Barry O'Neill is president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, B.C. division.