So on Tuesday, Alberta Primetime did a feature on whether bonuses should be given to public servants. Kevin Taft was on arguing against. This isn’t about that.
But Taft mentioned at least twice that part of the compensation a public servant receives is the knowledge that they are providing a valuable service to society and thus they would be willing to accept a lesser compensation pay package than private sector folks.
[Note I’m restricting myself to public sectors employees, not elected officials or appointees.]
Really? Does that seem naive to anyone but me? I once had an argument with a drunken lout who expressed the same view. Admittedly I was drunk myself at the time.
First (of possibly many objections), Providing a service to society is certainly one of the attractions of public service (at least it was for me.) But for many folks it may not be the primary one. Like any job providing a stable income for the family is often paramount. Other drivers to public sector life might be job stability (normally), a pension, consideration for work/life balance (less lately). Should we force anyone with a different priority into the private sector? Shouldn’t we encourage multiple personal values with the public sector to allow for diversity?
Next, Isn’t it possible that folks in the private sector feel they are bringing value to society too? Are we arguing that we should pay people less if they are useful? I mean, gah, just gah! The whole idea of an invisible hand (not that I’m a huge proponent) is that the free market in itself is of benefit to society…
And, at a certain point maybe pay doesn’t incentivize folks. But I can tell you what deincentivizes people – seeing someone doing a very similar job to them in another company and being paid more.
Fourth, the public sector must compete with the private sector for skill sets. Even in a purely outsourced model (some day a post there), the Gov’t has a responsibility to plan and to audit the suppliers. They have a responsibility to provide consultation to the elected officials. They don’t want to recruit those skill sets from only those with low pay expectations. (maybe a role of the state post someday too – that would be controversial).
Should a government hand out bonuses? That is tricky. Should the government offer compensation that is competitive with private sector? I think yes. How that compensation should be competitive can be tricky because it isn’t just an apples to apples comparison between the two sectors, but that needs to be the goal. Assuming that the folks would volunteer to do their jobs and that pay is itself a bonus is fool hardy and can only lead to misguided decisions.