Posted 08 April 2013 - 07:31 PM
As a public sector worker, my take is that it's just a different gig. It's easy to say 'oh things are so good in the public sector' when the economy's weak, but it's a just a different job environment. There's often little motivation to do extra work, because there's no reward structure. No commissions, no Christmas bonus, no negotiating leeway when you sign, no reward for good work. I definitely agree that there's also very few repercussions for poor performance. (I've personally observed considerable disincentives to being innovative in a couple of departments I've been part of). Those who are ok coasting along for years tend to do best - do decent, conscientious work without trying to be provocative or change things too much. But when the economy is soaring, and company execs are flying to the retreat in Whistler and cashing in their stock options, public employees are still filling out paperwork to account for that box of pens they bought 6 weeks ago, and trying to figure out how to serve muffins at a meeting without violating policy.
As for pay structure, public union jobs are great equalizers. They're very generous jobs for clerks and lower administrators - between the fat hourly wages, low hours, good benefits - yeah, good gigs, for sure, a huge step up from those $24k entry level 'internship-plus' positions I hear about in the private sector. As you climb the ladder, the pay gets relatively much crappier. Salaries climb slowly, linearly, rewarding years of service more than performance. Once you get to highly technical white-collar educated professional levels - engineers, researchers, CFA's, architects, geoscientists, managers - they become much lower paying compared to the private sector. If you look beyond the union schedule at director-level positions, salaries (in the BC PS) are barely cracking $100-110k. These are positions that usually take 20 years of experience, plus education, plus demonstrated performance and knowing how to walk the walk. Program directors in private firms can make twice that. So it's a very socialist hierarchy - everyone is more equal. The bottom end looks cushy, and the top end seems stingy. (It's also a reason why top managers and directors with a bit of ambition don't stick around; they get scooped up elsewhere).
As zoomer said above - public sector wages encourage a strong middle class. Shorter hours and good benefits encourage strong families, strong communities, healthy and non-stressed people. I believe these have been good for making Canadian communities nice places to live. But as a result, we're less dynamic, less adaptable to new trends, new ideas, new technologies.