8/29/12

When a wage freeze is not a wage freeze

In its dispute with teachers, the Ontario Liberal government sometimes tries to claim that one union's offer of a wage freeze is not in fact a wage freeze.

The rationale here is that even though no teacher would get a general wage increase for two years, some junior teachers would progress up the wage grid as they accumulate service.

This is an unusual take on wages.  And as noted in an earlier post, it is particularly peculiar point for the Liberals to harp on as they actually have agreed to service based pay increases in their deal with the catholic teachers association.

But the Liberal argument is also a rather one-sided interpretation of a wage freeze.

Pay based on service doesn't just go up -- it also goes down.  Pay based on service gradually increases as junior workers gain experience, but it also falls sharply when senior workers retire or quit and are replaced by a new worker.  The "gradual increase" and the "sharp fall" in pay is especially true for professions (like teaching) which have long, multi-year pay grids with a large wage differentiation between junior and senior employees.

If changes in service based pay don't even out for an employer in any given year, it will even out over time: older workers will sooner or later be replaced by younger workers.  The government knows this.  But that doesn't stop the Liberals.

If they want to freeze wages, one could just as easily ask why don't they freeze wages at the rates of the teachers who are retiring, rather than bring in teachers earning much less. But no, the Liberals only want to freeze the increases, not the decreases.

One might also ask why the Liberals think it is right to pay workers doing the same job so much less based largely on the age of the workers.

Finally it is interesting to note that the Liberal approach did not hamper the brand new tentative agreement between the colleges and their teachers, which  -- according to the colleges -- continues service based pay increases and imposes no concessions on the teachers.

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