If medical specialists are entitled to pay equity with their counterparts in the rest of Canada, why shouldn’t we, health care and education sector workers, be given equal treatment? That is the question a new CSQ study is trying to answer.

Although the mandate may seem easy, our research team had to overcome a few challenges. To begin with, Québec is the only province that negotiates the wages of public service employees in a centralized fashion. Elsewhere in the country, conditions vary across school boards, hospitals or regions. Furthermore, occupational groups don’t always have a counterpart from one province to the next and training requirements may be different.

Using data gathered from key collective agreements, Statistics Canada compilations as well as some data garnered from the federal government, researchers were able to compare the wages of eight occupational groups (nurses, nursing assistants, teachers, administrative officers, housekeeping attendants, social workers, psychologists and engineers), which represent nearly 50% of all public service personnel.

A sizable gap

The study’s findings are startling: in Québec, on average, these occupational groups, when compared with those across Canada, lag behind salary-wise by 22% at the entry level and 16% at the highest end of the wage scale.

Now, reactions to these findings may go something like: “But, the cost of living is so much higher in Ontario or Alberta than in Québec!” “$50,000 goes a lot further in Montreal or Québec City than in Toronto, Fort McMurray or Vancouver!”

Our research team anticipated this reaction and adjusted the wages according to price differences from one province to the next. Using the purchasing power parity measure, wages from the rest of Canada were adjusted according to their value in “Québec dollars”.

Despite this adjustment, the wage gap of Québec’s public sector remains. The average hourly wage in Québec is $36.84, compared to $38.57 in Ontario and $40.16 on average across the country. That is an 8% gap when compared to the rest of Canada.

Lagging behind... and doubly so

The wage gap with the rest of Canada isn’t the only one we’re interested in. Each November, the Institut de la statistique du Québec reminds us that public sector employees in Québec are paid 13.7% less than their counterparts in other sectors in the province (private, municipal, federal sectors, and government agencies).

Once again, responses could well be: “That may be so, but all those benefits make up for the public sector’s lower wages!” And yet, the public sector’s only benefit is paid leaves and vacation time. There are 12.2% more than in other sectors. The retirement plan, while it does provide above average coverage, incurs a lesser cost for the employer than plans in other sectors, on average. So, even when benefits are taken into account, there still is a 6.6% gap.

Average hourly wage in the public sector
Across the country 40,16 $
In Ontario 38,57 $
In Québec 36,84 $

For fairer wages

The CSQ has done its homework: with this study in hand, we are ready for the next round of negotiations. These findings will be indispensable when comes the time to remind the government of the wage gap, twice-over, public sector employees have to deal with. We’ve drawn our comparisons and our workers’ wages fall shockingly short. Now is the time to address this inequity.