Skip to main content

Labour Views: Public Wages should be Public

Mar 01, 2023

“My Taxes pay your salary!” It’s a common theme you hear in conversations about public sector workers. Of course, how taxation is linked to wages is not always that simple, but the public does have a right to know how public funds – no matter what sources they come from – are spent.

When it comes to salary information, you often hear excuses about privacy concerns, but there are ways to provide this information without singling out employees.

The GNWT, for example, lists the pay range for each public service position, rather than publishing a list of individual employees and their salaries. If you want to know how much money a specific position can make – from admin assistants to deputy ministers – you can look up the position and see the salary range.

If there is only one of those positions in an organization, you would still only see the salary range, not the specific salary that individual earns.

The GNWT’s system is not perfect; you can’t, for example, look up appointed positions such as Statutory Officers. But they at least give the public a sense of where the money goes, from the lowest pay scales to the very top of the public service.

This information is important when it comes to collective bargaining. Union members know what union members’ salary ranges and benefits are, from their collective agreement.   But knowing how much their bosses are getting paid is another part in determining if what they are asking for is reasonable, fair, and affordable.

When it comes to determining budgets, Employers should be – and usually are – providing themselves with some wiggle room for negotiations. If they don’t, it shows they don’t plan on actually bargaining.

Bargaining in good faith is a requirement in the Canada Labour Code. Generally speaking, it means coming to the table with the expectation of some back and forth until you can reach agreement somewhere in the middle. It is not a “take it or leave it” approach where one side makes an offer and then refuses to move.

In the case of the City of Yellowknife, we are missing a big piece of the wages puzzle. We know how much the City budgeted for wages and salary increases for 2022-23. We also know how much unionized workers at the City currently make (this information is public).

Budgets are public, and how those budgets are divvied up should be too. Is the City refusing to budge on wages for unionized employees because they blew their budget on increases, benefits, and bonuses for excluded workers? Did senior management pay themselves first, and now have nothing but crumbs left for their workers?

City of Yellowknife residents have seen hefty tax increases in the last two budgets. How is that money being spent? We’ve tried our best to find out, but the City of Yellowknife keeps dodging the question.

They claim they are not yet subject to the ATIPP Act, which is true, but only because the GNWT has been slow to add them to the Regulations. Based on the City’s recent response to Yellowknife Firefighters, they have the means and personnel to respond to requests, so we need to ask our MLAs – what’s the hold up?

The City also likes hiding behind numerous policies and bylaws, and getting creative with terminology to avoid public accountability. The Mayor says she and Council can’t talk to the Union about the strike/lockout “behind closed doors”, but the Mayor and City Manager won’t let Union reps (or even members of the public) speak openly in front of Council either.

Right now, nobody knows who is making the decisions over at City Hall. What information are Councillors seeing? Where are they getting their information? Why won’t the Mayor and City Management let them do their jobs in public when that is what they are elected to do?

On behalf of our members, the Union will continue to ask these questions. Yellowknife residents and taxpayers, who City Council is ultimately accountable to, should be asking questions too.