(Paige MacPherson is Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. This op-ed originally appeared in the Calgary Sun on March 9, 2016.)
Yes, education is vitally important and the good work done by teachers is extremely valuable in our society.
No, that does not mean teachers are entitled to automatic raises or even the current generous pay packet when the province is beyond broke.
On Wednesday, Alberta Education Minister David Eggen made an announcement about the NDP hiring new teachers (education funding announcements: always a shocker during a by-election). In the media scrum that followed, Eggen wouldn’t take a firm position when asked about teachers’ compensation.
It’s an extremely important debate to be had. The province’s collective agreements with the Alberta Teachers Association end on August 31. Recall that the last negotiation gave teachers a 2 per cent wage increase and lump sum payment following a three-year wage freeze. The contract before that scored the teachers an increase of nearly 23 per cent from 2006-07 to 2012-13.
It’s time to reduce teachers’ salaries in the province, along with government employee salaries across the board.
A teacher employed with Calgary School District 19 as an example, after working for only 10 years and having received six years of schooling, brings home $101,331.
For most, it’s hard to imagine reaching peak salary after only 10 years in your career. Add to that: two months of summer vacation, lengthy holiday breaks, generous benefits and an entitlement of 90 days of paid sick leave.
In 2014, the BC Teachers Federation put together a cross-provincial comparison of teachers’ salaries, finding that at the maximum level Alberta teachers were the highest paid of any province, averaging $99,004 in 2013-14.
According to the World Economic Forum, Canadian teachers are the third-best paid in the world, averaging $85,296 after 10 years’ experience in 2013-14. That means Alberta teachers are the highest paid of any province, in the third highest paid country in the world.
To put that in perspective, the average Albertan earned $60,476 in 2014, the highest in Canada. Often times it’s argued that Alberta teachers must have high salaries because they’re competing with the private sector for talent. But as noted in a University of Calgary report, teaching is a specialized profession for which government is the dominant employer, meaning that Alberta is competing more so with other provinces than the private sector.
The province is currently staring down a potential $10.4 billion deficit – a financial burden so heavy, our finance minister couldn’t even bring himself to utter the number to reporters. The province’s debt is over $17 billion and growing.
Yet, the Alberta teachers union still isn’t ruling out a raise for teachers. When faced with the numbers, the degree to which this union sounds so incredibly out of touch is almost incomprehensible.
Compensation for teachers has become a sacred cow in Canada. Politicians don’t dare address it, lest they be the subjects of a dramatic union dust-up over how they’re denying little Tommy of textbooks. The entire debate has reached peak level ridiculous.
Despite the fact that negotiations with teachers unions often lands kids out of school for extended periods of time, it’s somehow always the mean old politicians who aren’t “putting students first.”
Let’s move past the rhetoric.
Discussions of teachers’ salaries, when they’re already as high as they are in Alberta, have nothing to do with the kids. A CD Howe Institute study looking at teacher salaries found no clear relationship between student performance and relative compensation.
It is completely unnecessary to undermine the valuable work teachers do by putting them at odds with cash-strapped taxpayers with another wage debate.
If the Alberta teachers union decides to say economy be damned and demand increases to salaries or benefits, the answer should be no. They’re out of touch by every reasonable measure. The time to roll back teachers’ salaries is now.