A Lovely Salary

At a time when the Bank of Israel and the Finance Ministry are battling one another over who will supervise wages at the former, it is worth recalling an issue that is being swallowed up in this battle: the size of salaries.

For several years, various institutions and the media have reserved harsh criticism for what they consider the overly high salaries doled out by the Bank of Israel. And in fact, the Bank's salaries exceed the norm in the public sector; really nice incomes, which allow for a comfortable life. Add to that the concern expressed in the media each year when the public sector salary report is published, and the condemnation of the "salary record-holders." Oy vey, cry the knights of the economy, a scandal: Senior public sector employees earn so much money?! It's irregular! It's improper! It's indecent!

But that is a total distortion. The real scandal is the widespread consensus that those working in the civil service need to receive low salaries, whereas private sector employees should earn a lot of money. An even greater distortion is inciting the public to envy and hate those who earn a nice salary. After all, we're being crushed by the burden, so why should we be forgiving?

The Bank of Israel is an excellent example of the fact that it is worthwhile to improve both public sector salaries and working conditions: The Bank's salaries are high, which means its employees are good at their jobs and remain there for years; the knowledge and experience they accumulate remain at the bank and serve the public. While it's far from perfect, as a rule, and despite various governors with different agendas, as an entity, the Bank of Israel's concern about public welfare is relatively evenhanded, and the Bank works accordingly. And yet, instead of all that, we still prefer the system of "if you're worth anything, then leave, and if not, then stay."

Well, that's not the way. We have to significantly improve the salaries and conditions in the civil service in order to groom excellent senior officials; but we also - indeed mainly - have to do so to compensate existing civil servants. The expression "public sector" has long since become a cliche whose meaning has escaped our attention. Well, the "public sector" includes more than 300,000 teachers, professors, doctors, port workers, employees of the Israel Electric Corporation and the municipalities, social workers, psychologists, employees of the National Insurance Institute, the legal system and many more. All the systems that serve us, the public. And we pay their salaries, through our taxes.

This means that we, the public, have an unequivocal interest in paying nice and satisfactory salaries to those who work for us. That's the market economy, isn't it? Why should it only be Nochi Dankner and Yitzhak Tshuva who pay a lot of money to their outstanding employees? We, the public, also want to compete and pay excellent salaries, so we can hire the best people to handle our interests: our welfare, health, education, infrastructure, employment, equality; and to help us pay less tax and receive more benefits - just like all the millionaire businessmen.

Doing so is also worthwhile for us, since the salary and conditions in the public sector set the standard for the private sector, too; and when the public sector becomes a good workplace it can compete with private employers and protect the unprotected workers as well.

Once it becomes economically worthwhile to work in the public sector we will not only be able to hire the best, but to keep them for years, to benefit from the knowledge, experience and power they accumulate (for us as well), and to demand that they work only for us. In so doing we will prevent them from taking this accumulated experience and knowledge (about us!) and putting them in the service of some random capitalist, and we will be able to get them to work in the hospital until 4 P.M., or even later, instead of finishing at 1 P.M. and running to a second job at private clinic.

It will become less enticing to work for the tycoons, and anyone working for us under such conditions will not be tempted to exploit his public power for the benefit of those who may soon employ him at a far higher salary. In addition, in order to preserve our interests, the civil service is in need of people with power, experience and motivation, people who are able to withstand the tremendous pressures applied by the wealthy.

And besides, just think how nice civil servants will be without all that financial stress.