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I am a Civil Servant

One of my most controversial rants. As a Civil Servant, I take some good-natured ribbing from friends. I also deal with outright hatred from those who don’t know me. Having worked in the Private Sector for 20 years, I see both sides. The relentless hatred is a bit over the top, folks. There is no Deep State, just many folks trying to do things with little guidance.

I keep hearing from various media outlets and bloggers about how much money is wasted on the Government. Inevitably, out of these discussions come statements about the typical Civil Servant. I now feel that I have the right to comment on this (having worked in both the private sector (for 25 years) and now the public sector (for more than 14 years)).

Let’s go over a few of the more interesting points that some folks seem to have an opinion about:

  • Your taxes pay me, but I also pay taxes. One media outlet implied that a Civil Servant doesn’t pay taxes. I can assure you that I pay taxes just like everyone. No free ride here.
  • Everybody can quickly determine how much I make from readily available information. This is disconcerting since people could guess when I worked for Nortel, but they couldn’t be sure they knew how much I made. Some newspapers publish folks’ pay provincially, which would be mortifying.
  • Someone does drive me to work in the morning (these days). However, they work for OC Transpo. I don’t get limousine rides to work every day. Someone asked me that question when they heard I worked in the government). Never mention parking to a Civil Servant, though (that is a mess at all levels of government).
  • Are all Civil Servants lazy? Let’s not go there on this one. I have seen good and evil in both the Public and Private sectors and leave it at that. Some might argue I am a Lazy Sod, so maybe you shouldn’t ask me?

From what I can tell, many misconceptions folks have about Civil Servants (or Public Servants) seem to come from the perks that Members of Parliament get.

The primary issue I keep hearing is that I have a “gold-plated free pension.” This exciting topic again comes from the MP side of things. Yes, I have a charming pension (that many people do not have, so I realize having a pension is a huge benefit). The pension was negotiated with an elected government and is not “free” to me. I pay money into the Pension Plan and will likely have to pay more soon to keep this privilege. I did have this same privilege when I was at Nortel (until it all fell apart).

Yes, the taxpayer pays for part of my pension, but they are the folks bankrolling my employer (i.e. the Federal Government), so again, I am paying into that too. It is also one of the most significant debts the Government has to pay.

Unlike Members of Parliament, Civil Servants take 35 years to get a “full” pension. Members of Parliament get a FULL Pension after six years (oh, and I don’t think they put much money in on their side either).

A Civil Servant’s “full” pension can be calculated as (assuming they work for 35 years in the Civil Service).

70% of an average of your five best years’ salary, which is then discounted by how much CPP you will get paid. Once you are CPP eligible)  {simple, isn’t it ?}

Big Deal: You Are Still Better Off Than Most Canadians!

What’s the point of all of this? I am ready to discuss whatever issues you like on the Civil Service and its Pension system.

As a supplement, a very well-written article that helps clarify things is Michael James’ The Consequences of Keeping Bad Employees. It talks about the biggest issue in Public Service (IMHO).

Feel Free to Comment

  1. Pingback: Price Fixing, Civil Servants and Random Thoughts - Canadian Personal Finance Blog

  2. The issue with all the benefits and high salaries paid to civil servants (some of whom are very lazy – I’ve seen it with my own eyes!) is the fact that many of the Canadians who are paying for these perks live in almost poverty but work just as hard or harder. Why should I pay for a civil servant to have X number of sick days etc (and they get many) when I get NONE. I’m paying for these people to stay home when they are sick while I can’t afford to stay home and have to go into work when suffering from a cold, the flue or any other ailment I get. I do not get any benefits, health or otherwise, my vacation is unpaid if I choose to take it and there’s no pension. BUT I STILL HAVE TO PAY TAX DOLLARS TOWARDS CIVIL SERVANTS TO HAVE ALL THESE THINGS WHEN I GET NOTHING. how is this fair? If I can work with zero sick days etc than civil servants can work with half the benefits they get.

  3. I don’t believe I should have to pay a cent toward the retirement of any public employee. Why should I have to pay for some lazy ass retired public employee when that person is no longer benefiting me, as a taxpayer. I have a friend who worked for the Ontario Government for a few years and he speaks often of the unbelievable laziness and total lack of productivity of most government employees he had the misfortune to interact with. He spoke of how difficult it was to get anything accomplished if it depended to any degree on the input of his fellow employees. He laughably speaks of one employee who was often sleeping in his office and of another employee who was too busy conducting his own personal sideline business while on tax payers time to accomplish any of his job duties. I have operated a business for the past 17 years and because of competition (you public sector employees may have to look that word up in the dictionary) I continually have to “tighten my belt” to stay a float. A retirement package, what retirement package? Why should I now, or in the future, pay for your retirement when you are no longer serving me? I believe in all of us paying into CPP because we can all collect when we retire, but I do not believe I should pay for my government retired neighbours (actually are my neighbours) while they go on trips every year and live a nice lifestyle thanks to me and many others like me who have no access to that same benefit. Lastly, I know a person who recently got a job with the municipal government in my area, and as he stated to me, with great glee I might add, “CASH FOR LIFE!!!” It’s like winning the lottery!

    1. A lot of acidic rhetoric. Lazy ass? Really? Do you yell at your neighbors how lazy ass you feel they are, or do you reserve that for comments on a lightly read blog? Having to pay for the pension package that was negotiated by your elected officials is an issue to you (it seems), so I suggest you take it up with the folks who negotiated it for you, your Elected Representatives.

      Oh, and the money you pay to GM for your car (as an example) helps pay the pension of folks who haven’t built cars in years either, sorry, that is the nature of pensions.

  4. I work for the province and nobody should be jealous or hating on my job or they can just apply and come see
    Trust me it’s no gravy train the pay is low and no matter how hard you work the raises come only after a year and a good review
    My building is half empty and they just shut down 2 other offices to consolidate us after laying off dozens

    Yay a pension
    Private sector salaries buy their own pensions they can direct however they want so stop hating in the pensions already

    I will admit I am surrounded by underachieving people for the most part and it’s mostly because they know there’s no way to move up unless they take some promotion in another city nobody wants and drive 3 hours a day and tear their family appart

    I worked all my life for private companies at the top 10% level and tried this public sector job out for a few years and don’t hate on me or act like its a gravy gig cuz I’m ready to lose my mind here

    I make 30% less than i did years ago and no amount of hard work and dedication will advance me any further

    And stop acting like you pay my salary and that entitles you to something either than the service I perform. You pay the kid at burger kings salary every time you buy a whopper but dont get in his face about it or you’ll get a different kind of whopper for it.

    Are you saying you prefer it to all be privatized and the workers get paid even less? Lets see what service the taxpayers will get then

    Go fly a kite every single one of you haters you make me sick
    I beat out 2500 people for my cruddy job with a pension so maybe your one of them

    1. Well said Minister, well said. Oh and that great pension is much more expensive now, and in the Federal world you have Tony Clement who seems to think that Labor Relations are done via media releases. Oh well.

  5. let me ask why I pay for government pensions- I know people who work in the gov and they are the first ones to say ” work 3 hours a day, get a raise each year, and wow I pay for it. look at the roads alone and understand that working for the gov means, sleep and don’t worry about it- 84,000 gov workers in Ontario. I bet if we put 20,000 private sector people it would solve the problem. Useless

    1. haha got to love it when you type a comment and have to wait to have some lazy loser analyse it and decide if they want to allow it to be shown- that is the problem with this country and wheeeee I wont live here or pay taxes knowing that when I pay one dollar in taxes, that 50 cents of that will pay for the incompetent – come see my neighbour sleep and hey that is what he does each day when he is suppose to be working

      1. Goodness, someone did shart on your corn flakes didn’t they? Comments on this site are reviewed mostly for SPAM (I get about 500 a day these days), so no your comments don’t go up automatically, but I rarely censor them (I’ll leave that to other folks).

        I trust one day you will get your moneys worth out of the Government and we lazy Civil Servants.

    2. Bruce, feel free to take this up with your Members of Parliament (Provincial and Federal). You pay for the pension because your Government has employees who have a union that negotiated with your representative that you (or your parents) voted for.

      As for the public sector, maybe, but I guess we’ll never know.

  6. Thank you for your post. I’m beginning to think some of the biggest stumbling blocks to understanding gov’t pensions are the pensioners themselves. I was given the impression that gov’t pensions were gold plated by gov’t workers. I have heard claims that they don’t worry about the market or the economy or the health of their plans. The gov’t simply makes up any shortfall by dipping deeply in to today’s pot of tax dollars. I worked hard for almost 35 years; I paid into a DB plan as did my employer; I retired on about 25 percent of my working salary. I have no drug plan, no dental plan, no insurance. I do get to keep all my CPP so I guess the 25 percent figure should climb some when making a comparison with the gov’t pensions. After reading your post, you have made me aware I still have lots to learn about gov’t worker pensions and that talking to gov’t workers may not always yield the definitive answers.

    1. Wow, thanks! I do have an AMAZING pension, no argument, but I do pay a lot of money into it as well (it’s the MPs that get the real GOLD PLATED Pensions).

  7. Former Civil Servant

    Blah, blah, blah. I worked for the feds for MANY years and recently left for the private sector (was not forced out) because I could not stand the blatant lack of work ethic, general laziness, ridiculous approval processes, and large number of employees who took full and willing advantage of what they are offered as being a part of the public service.

    Stop defending yourself – you do have an amazing pension, better than anyone in the country. You are offered an insane amount of sick days that carry over each year which many of you feel are rightfully yours to use for ‘mental health days’ or as I have seen time and time again the ubiquitiously bullshit ‘stress leave’ for six months. You do get get paid for every pitiful minute of overtime you do, including when travelling TO a destination for work (unheard of).

    Public servants need to stop being so sanctimonious and realize that their bad reputation comes from the people around them (or themselves depending on the case) perpetuating this behaviour. If you don’t like it, try to affect change, leave, or shut up.

    I always say – for every amazing public servant, there are five that are useless. I wish this wasn’t true but it absolutely is.

    1. Sanctimonious? I re-read your comment and wondered if you were looking in the mirror when you wrote that.

      By the by, I worked 28 years in the Private Sector, I look forward to hearing how long you last there (hopefully as long as I did).

      Good luck with your future endeavors.

      1. Big Cajun …really? Figure it any way you want but .gov lets you pay taxes ‘cuz it makes you feel like a part of the system and contributing. Say you make $80K, take home $60. Now if the .gov only paid you $60 – what would change. Would the .gov coffers be short 20k. No as your so-called tax contribution is just smoke and mirror. Do any calculation you wish. The private sector shoulders it all. Maybe then, public servants should not be allowed to vote as they have no skin in the game – they really don’t except their own survival. Again, the fox guarding the chicken coop.
        You are down a one way path here on taxes and pensions that has no survivability except for your constant rants …no facts but rants work better …humiliate the fact givers …good leftie you are.

        1. Someone who makes $80K and takes home $60K? Not in Canada. As for the rest of your discussion, I am confused? Are you saying Public Servants don’t pay taxes?

          I do agree the Private Sector pays lots of taxes, no argument there, I worked in it for over 20 years, so I am aware of Corporate taxes and such, but the “smoke and mirror” comment has me befuddled, can you elaborate further?

  8. @Philip S (or anyone else who knows): do you have a reference for the statement “Every Federal employee puts aside 9.71% of their pay for retirement benefits”? I’d like to look into the details. I vaguely remember looking into this at one point and found that this 9.71% includes CPP contributions and the 70% payout includes CPP payments. This would make which would make the figure a little misleading as every employee and their employer already contributes 4.95% each to CPP up to a CPP max of about $45k. I’d say it’s really more like putting less than 5% into pension savings. In my opinion saving less than the RRSP limit of 18% (which doesn’t include any CPP that comes off the top) really isn’t saving very much.

  9. @Philip S: Your contention that the bulk of government paralysis is “safeguards” is laughable. I’m happy to leave the safeguards and eliminate the massive unnecessary bureaucracy.

    Your figures on the percentage of worker pensions paid for by various parties is based on an overly-optimistic actuarial valuation. Future taxpayers will be on the hook for all shortfalls.

  10. wow and wow.
    To quote my original post:”Also , before you defend your pension, LET’S ADD UP paid sick days, vacation, official holidays,” ….How conveniently you twisted my words…
    I was never mad, condescending or rude. I thought we are talking generally here, nothing personal. If I say “me” i mean “the taxpayer” if I say you I mean “the government employee”. It’s your blog, but YOU ,cajun, put this out there, so no need to get whiny and agressive.
    Also, you never countered my initial remarks – you just called me names.
    Hmm, very disappointed with your attitude.

    1. My most humblest of apologies, you caught me on a stressful Sunday. So I do work for you, that’s good. If I sounded rude, again, my most sincerest of apologies. As for twisting words, that is what bloggers do best, don’t you think?

      If you wish to get back to our discourse, continue, I disagree with the whole Sick days argument (still), everyone should be getting those days (at least the Official Holidays), as for sick days and vacation, that may change in the next collective bargaining agreement as well.

      As I have said, yes I put this out there, so I will gladly take the heat that comes with it.

    1. As I said to the original comment, I applaud your right to write your opinions (also note I moderate these comments, so I could simply not publish your comment, but that would be a cowardly act, I opened the can of worms, I’ll take the heat).

      My apologies if you feel that every Civil Servant has it out for you, I am pretty sure most of us don’t (although I don’t feel I can speak for everyone). As for the arguments which were put forward, I stand by my statement of “bovine feces”, Government employees have a nice benefits package, but there is nothing there that is different than many other (if not close to all) employers (in the private sector) these days (for regular full time employees).

  11. Just a few thoughts on what you said:
    1. Taxpayers pay your salary – the fact that you give some back (as tax)…does it mean YOU paid anything?
    2. People know how much you make – so what? it doesn’t reduce your pay or anything
    3. I go to work by bus and pay for the bus ticket, that is driven by a busdriver paid by taxpayers, too – and usually I stand up, no limousine for me either.
    4. Yes, I do expect you to work your butt off if I pay for you – and i really don’t care if there are lazy people in the private sector. Do I pay for them?
    Also , before you defend your pension, let’s add up paid sick days, vacation, official holidays, health and dental benefits, disability, short work hours, life insurance, accidental coverage etc etc.
    Please feel free to NOT answer me – It’s bad enough you wrote this post to begin with.
    Thank you.

    1. Now that is the kind of response I expected, good for you.

      Just to clarify, I don’t work for YOU, I work for all Canadians (as do all of us in the Civil Service). So no one in the private sector has, “…sick days, vacation, official holidays, health and dental benefits, disability, short work hours, life insurance, accidental coverage…”? Allow me to call “bovine feces” on your statement.

      You want to be angry, mad, condescending and rude, that is your right as a Canadian, and I applaud you for doing so. Feel free to attempt to ridicule this more, I am listening.

  12. I work for the government (not federal) and every work day is a full tilt sprint from start to finish. I have to deal with people who get pissed off if I don’t have an answer in 20 seconds, we are chronically short staffed and I have to fix 30-60 issues a day with few resources except google. You can have my govt job. It’s not worth the stress.

  13. If a private company that has a defined benefit plan ran into a debt problem as large as most levels of gov’t in canada, do you think they would still be offering the same benefit plan to employees? Of course not, they would do wham most corporations are doing, reducing benefits, changing to defined contribution etc. The resentment comes from the fact that in the private sector people lose their jobs or get laid off, wages are being frozen, benefits are being slashed etc because of structural changes in the economy. However, the public system seems to be immune from these realities. The “pain” should be spread around to all citizens, not just those in the private sector.

    1. Wait for it, “the pain” is about to be seen in the Public Sector, in the next few weeks the government will announce their lay off goals and they are also negotiating a new deal with PSAC, so you might just get your wish.

  14. @tom:

    So what you are saying is that in order to match the government pension the BMO employees have to pay in to CPP, their regular RRSP style plan and then also pay full amounts in to a defined benefit plan? How much dos that cost the employee vs the civil service employee?

  15. Well paid civil servants are a requirement in order to avoid corruption. Having spent some time in countries with civil services who don’t made good coin, I’m happy to be back.

    The same can be said for elected officials. 6 years of service means winning two elections. And while senior members and ministers frequently have cushy post-government jobs coming their way after serving in cabinet, I think most MPs face a fairly uncertain job market once they get the boot. Since we want high caliber people to essentially abandon their careers to pursue public office, the guarantee that they won’t face financial ruin if the win at least two terms seems like a reasonable provision.

    That said, the key word that I think has been missing from this conversation is “indexed”. Federal pensions pay out up to 70% of the best 5 years, and then are indexed to inflation for ever. Indexing is the gold plating. If you’re in the private sector, saving for your own retirement, this is something you can’t really duplicate. Check the price of an inflation indexed annuity sold by any major insurer recently? Your pension is guaranteed — in real purchasing power — for life, by a AAA credit. Does anyone who doesn’t work for the federal government have that?

  16. The contribution might be split 50-50 between the gov’t and civil servant, but the shortfall when paying out the pension is paid out of federal coffers. And that shortfall is huge. A Google search shows the shortfall at $400 billion.

  17. ok, that’s what I thought for civil servants, thanks.

    But what about politicians? From the article, “Members of Parliament get a FULL pension after 6 years … and I don’t think they put much money in on their side either” This can’t possibly be sustainable, can it? So they must be getting these rather generous pensions almost straight from taxation, is that right?

    1. Most (if not all) of the BQ MPs who lost in the last election, will be receiving a full parliamentary pension (which I think is &70K or more), isn’t that ironic?

  18. Another Taxpayer said: “what public servants pay into the plan nowhere near covers what they take out”

    Is this true? I though civil servant pension plans were required to be self-sustaining, and couldn’t for example just go out and take general revenue taxes to top up… (at least I think this is true for civil servant plans, not sure about politicians’ plans)

    Anyone know for sure?

  19. I wanted to weigh in on 2 comments to Michael James: what you call bureaucracy can also be considered safeguards. Yes, there is a lot of approval sought on decisions and yes there is a lot of reporting but that also ensures the correct decision is being implemented and it produces accountability. Every program activity is reported back to parliament to ensure it’s accountability…would you remove that?

    Also on the comment “but the bulk of the pension value is paid for by other taxpayers.” As of January 1st, the contributions to the public pension plan is split 50-50 between the GoC and the employee. As the post points out “70% of an average of your 5 best years salary, which is then discounted by how much CPP you will get paid (once you are CPP eligible)”. So when you roll the CPP contributions and the RPP contributions together, the federal government really only puts approx. 35% towards the retirement benefits of a member.
    But let’s look at this another way. Every Federal employee puts aside 9.71% of their pay for retirement benefits that pay out 70% of their best 5 years. There is an employer top-up, for sure, but don’t you think that if every Canadian put away 10% of their pay we’d all be in better financial shape? Keep in mind that the Federal employee has no control over the investing of their retirement funds…the risk is transferred to the plan owner, for sure, but look back to the early 90’s when $30 billion was taken from that plan to pay down the debt. Just sayin…

  20. Public servants represent the vast majority of workers who have a defined benefit pension. And only 40% of Canadians have a workplace pension at all. So most taxpayers are subsidizing this very generous pension (what public servants pay into the plan nowhere near covers what they take out). I’d like to know what percent of your gross income you’re paying towards that pension. We’re paying 18% in RRSPs and fully contributing to our TFSAs (and have always maxed out our RRSPs) and we won’t get anywhere near 70% of our best 5 years in the current economy.

    1. Why is the assumption that public sector pensions are too generous? Maybe the private sector is too Scrooge-like. DFPs can also be sustainable if managed correctly. The baby-boom demographic bubble is the major issue, and I am paying more my DFP as a result to cover off liabilities. My DFP is also privately managed and reports annually on its sustainability and viability. I contributed approximately 14% to pension, though it was lower before 2008.

  21. The other issue is consider is economic context. The dramatic reduction of private sector benefits and the demise of DFPs is a relatively recent phenomenon. Why now?

    The economy is changing, and the loss of good paying manufacturing and larger industry jobs is a factor. The move to a stock market driven economy is another. When stock valuations define the viability of a company (“we only made 1 billion this year, so better cut staff benefits”) we have a disconnect. Why is our labour less valuable now?

    Big picture, I worry about middle class sustainability. Who under the age of 40 can afford to buy a house at today’s prices, save for kids education, pay off student loans, and buy RRSPs? I certainly can’t do it all.

    The generation approaching retirement got to have their cake and eat it too. Us younger folk are going to pay for their prosperity by earning less, paying more, and living a much less prosperous lifestyle. Can I at least have my defined benefit pension to give me some security in retirement?

    1. I am not sure if I am going to get that much cake, maybe a small piece of pie, but yes, the generation behind me is not getting any pie either. The question is whether “the greatest generation ever” (the one before me) is an aberation, since they were really the only ones who got to retire, maybe retirement is really just a pipe dream?

  22. “Do you know of any other companies that give a guaranteed 70% of an average of your 5 best years salary rather than just something like a match on contributions? I figured most rational companies have given up on defined benifit plans because of how unsustainable they are.”

    Sure, the Bank of Montreal basically offer this to its employees. To get 70%, you need to work at the bank for about 35 years and pay into the optional, supplementary defined benefit pension plan.

    1. That sounds very familiar… hmmm… Good to know, I think the issue is that ALL pension plans (or maybe only MOST) are in trouble for various reasons, the problem with the Civil Service Pension is Canadians are on the hook to clean the mess up (made by the Pension folks)

  23. Why is it that most (if not all) current conversations in traditional and social media focus on particular compensation benefits (i.e. pensions) when we need to look at full (total) compensation? I think to be fair, we need to include all forms of compensation such as bonuses, stock purchase plans, stock options, flex health benefits, company car, vacation time, etc. to base pay and pension benefits to get the full compensation picture. Only then will a true comparison become valuable, cherry picking components is not fair.

  24. Until you can buy milk with “extra pension value” it is not a usable add on to worker pay. If you work for the taxpayer, you are paid by the taxpayer, why would your pension come from anywhere else? Is it a nice pension? Sure I guess, having never had one, I wouldn’t know. Is it a good system, don’t know that either. I do know you can’t buy groceries with public impression.


  25. @BCW: Don’t worry, the extra pension value will buy plenty of milk for you in a few years.

    @SJ: I agree completely. All forms of compensation must be included in any meaningful comparison. However, if one were to do this and assess skills levels as well, civil servant pay would look very attractive for the average person. Only top performers are generally better off in the private sector.

  26. Another fallacy that I’d like to see fixed is that there is a difference between DB Plans where you did or didn’t see a deduction on your paycheque. Forget about what your gross or net pay is, your total compensation package (salary, plus benefits, both employer and employee contributions, taxable or not) is how individuals are really compensated for the work they do. There is little difference between the employee making $45K with the employer kicking in $5K to the pension plan and the individual in the company next door where the salary is $47500K with a mandatory $2500 from the employee matched by the company. Yes, there are a lot of assumptions, but both see the same net pay and the same net benefit, all else being equal. Instead, they probably think they make differing amounts of money, but are equally compensated.

  27. The problem with public service is not that workers are lazy; it is that so much of their time is wasted by rules and so much of the work they do is useless or wasted. The bureaucracy creates great piles of work that provides little benefit to anyone. Bureaucracy exists in the private sector as well, but to a much lesser degree.

    As for pensions, workers pay for part of them in direct deductions and a much smaller part indirectly in the taxes they pay, but the bulk of the pension value is paid for by other taxpayers. If you add this extra pension value to worker pay, government workers are paid much more than private sector workers with the same expertise.

  28. Do you know of any other companies that give a guaranteed 70% of an average of your 5 best years salary rather than just something like a match on contributions? I figured most rational companies have given up on defined benifit plans because of how unsustainable they are.

    1. Defined Benefit implies the employee is not making any payment, Civil Servants are kicking in a good chunk of pay every pay cheque for their pension. Nortel’s Pension if I had stayed there was a Defined Benefit (where I didn’t need to put ANY money in) and I would have received almost 60% of my pay, plus an early retirement allowance, so I am actually paying much more for my pension now, than I did back then.

  29. I too am a public servant (should I hang my head low when I say that). And yes, have been subjected to the ridicule. But I too contribute heavily and have for the last 11 years. I may only have 6 years left and do look forward to maybe getting 17 years x 2%, or 34% of my salary. What I do know is I will have to find other ways to subsidize that. Hubby thinks I should just work til I’m 90. I tell him to make more money (he has an IPP for his self-employed business). And my RRSP was hit when Nortel collapsed–a lot of people were burned.

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