Public Wages / Underdogs or Fat Cats?

Some earned their wages, others didn't.

Take a good look at the list of top public-sector salaries - nearly all are earned by doctors. It's undoubtedly an important profession. But wait, haven't the doctors and the hospital interns been striking for the past several months? So what's going on here? They're earning the most and they're also striking?

The answer lies in the massive differences in salaries and terms between senior doctors and young doctors and interns, and it clearly raises questions about the salary structure in public medicine.

Ofer Eini - Daniel Bar-On - 11102011
Daniel Bar-On

Salaries are far from being an exact science. Thus, automatically assailing the top public-sector earners is not the right response. The public sector is full of professional, dedicated, skilled employees who have made significant contributions to the country. Many of them could earn much more in the private sector. Something about how the public sector is managed made them agree to settle for a little less, since there are other advantages to being a public servant. Meanwhile, there are other employees whose salaries don't seem related to their contribution - and whose problem is excessive compensation.

The numbers in the public sector salary report published on Monday don't tell the full story. The report doesn't include statistics about productivity, comparisons with private-sector salaries or how salaries are determined. Public-sector salaries mainly reflect the power of specific sectors and their representatives, and their opportunities over the years. Those who were powerful and violent at the right moments received, and those who didn't know how to make demands were left behind. This is what led to the salary table and the distortions that we're now seeing.

But distortions ultimately implode. One example of this is the strike by the hospital residents, who are no longer willing to do the healthcare system's dirty work and are demanding better compensation. The residents' protest focuses on salaries, and that too is a distortion, since one of their main arguments is that the 26-hour-plus rotations they perform multiple times a month endanger patients. Even if they were to earn two or three times as much, that wouldn't make them any less tired.

Another distortion can also be expected to implode soon: The poor wages earned by public-sector workers employed through external contractors. Histadrut labor federation head Ofer Eini wants to make this into a headline issue. There's no doubt that outsourced employees and foreign workers need to have their working conditions overhauled. There's no doubt that the nation, which took to the streets to demand "social justice" this summer, needs to push for these groups to be addressed if it wants to reduce social gaps.

The way to do this isn't to scatter money and expand deficits, but to manage the public sector work force more efficiently, to create more humane, proper employment mechanisms.

Can this be done in fields where pressure groups are in control and look out only for themselves? Can this be done in places where strong unions aren't ready to hear about "management flexibility"? Is the public sector ready for a management overhaul?

The Trajtenberg report for social and economic reform addressed these issues and stated that "The government needs to fix fundamental failures in the public sector, strengthen planning and policy abilities, increase its management flexibility and ability to act, and enhance the public ethos and the values on which public service rests." It would be difficult to express the challenges facing the public sector better than this. Does Eini understand this? Is the government ready for such a process? Do public sector workers understand how much good could come out of this? Do all the people supporting the so-called "new deal" understand that addressing the inequalities, which created weak and exploited classes, mandates fixing the fundamental failures in the public sector as a whole?