Text size

It might look like the dogs are barking but the caravan keeps rolling on, but that isn't quite true. The public sector is slowly toeing the wages line. When it was first published in 1995, the Report on Wage Costs at Public Bodies found that 62 percent of the state-owned corporations, government organizations, enterprises and bodies overpaid employees. This year, the proportion of enterprises over the line dropped to 14 percent.

The very publication of the report creates public pressure on managers at public enterprises. Treasury regulators are more sensitive and they want results. Just look, for instance, at treasury wages director Yuval Rachlevsky's battle against salary excesses at the Bank of Israel.

This is another example of how right U.S. Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis was when he said, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant."

The size of the civil service has improved as well. As part of the 2003 austerity plan, early retirement programs were created, and thousands left the public sector. So Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "fat man" is a little leaner now, and the private sector has more resources for growth and employment.

But to disinfect really well, the report should contain the names of those who receive excessive wages, not just their job titles. "An Oil Refineries shift manager in the ethylene division" doesn't say much. Publishing names would increase public pressure to maintain public "hygiene."

Another of the report's shortcomings is that it doesn't include the public sector's noncontributory pensions in calculating salary costs. This is no simple process, as it involves determining what portion of wages will be counted for pension purposes. For instance, only a small proportion of doctors' salaries counts toward their pensions, while jurists' salaries are valued at a much higher rate. The average additional cost can be assumed to be about 20 percent, but this can be misleading. The next wage report should include this calculation, so we can know the real cost of every public servant's salary.

According to the Rachlevsky report, public wages fell in 2003, but this is a slightly misleading figure as it is the result of an economic rescue plan that eroded public wages from mid-2003 until mid-2005. In other words, in four more months, salaries will return to their original levels - and the reduction in wages will evaporate into thin air.

The report is supposed to cover the entire public sector, but this is not entirely true. Rachlevsky has no authority over the Knesset, so the report doesn't even touch on employees there, not just MKs but hundreds of parliamentary aides and administrative workers. Nor does the report deal with other elected officials like mayors and heads of local councils or judges and rabbinical court judges.

Omitting the wages of Knesset staffers is particularly infuriating, occuring as it does against the backdrop of two recent affairs: An 11 percent increase in the Knesset budget while every ministry faces cutbacks, and a 40 percent (!) salary hike for parliamentary aides in just two years - unprecedented in the public sector.

Even the state comptroller, who is independent, publishes information on his office's wages, which are about 70 percent (!) higher than the norm in other ministries. It is therefore proper that Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin wake up and smell the coffee, and publish Knesset staff salaries. After all, he has an interest in gaining the confidence of the public that is paying for democracy out of its pocket.