How much are we paid?
I hesitate about joining in discussions on finance and monetary issues because I know my limitations.
When the conversation turns to quantitative easing, my voice goes down and I leave it to those who know about these things.
This is by way of trying to buy excuses for myself to delve into subject matters in which I, quite frankly, have no expertise.
Back in the days when I worked for the BBC, a friend of mine who worked for a public board in Ghana was lamenting how badly paid people were in Ghana and how well paid I was at the BBC.
She came to this conclusion by converting the 3,000 pounds sterling a month I was taking home then into cedis and comparing it with her pay, which she did not disclose.
It is not the done thing to admit to how much you are paid in Ghana, enough to say it is not enough.
I told her that even if I were taking home 5,000 pounds sterling, I wouldn’t say I was better off.
She was living in a three-bedroom official house, in a choice part of Accra, she had a gardener, security, an official car and driver.
Her electricity and water bills were paid and she had 36 working days leave and other undisclosed allowances.
I pointed out to her that when the BBC paid me, they had no interest in where I lived, be it rent or mortgage would be my problem and not theirs. The same goes for my electricity, water, gas and other bills and they expect me to be at work at whatever time I am needed; car, bus, train was not their problem.
I suggested to my friend that if we converted all her non-cash benefits into money, she would earn far more than me. My friend was never convinced.
I have been wondering about salaries and pay in this country.
President J.A. Kufuor it was that gave wide currency to the popular saying: they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.
In other words, the pay is miserable and productivity levels are consequently low.
Since President Kufuor made that speech early in his administration, a lot of things have happened in the remuneration area, all under various names and titles, Single Spine being the most dramatic.
Salaries went up dramatically in the public service. There is the Market Premium under which people who work in the public sector want to be given private sector rates.
My understanding had been that if you opted for public sector work, you accept that you would not get paid fancy salaries and wages, but were trading that for security of tenure and wielding influence.
Each side had advantages and disadvantages and you chose what suited your temperament.
It seems to me we have lost sight of this very important distinction between the public sector and the private sector and in trying to make the public sector work, the advantages are retained, while the disadvantages are being taken away.
Security of tenure is still inherent in a public sector job but now we have market value, which used to be applicable in the private sector.
It used to be that when public sector unions are negotiating for pay and conditions, they come, armed with pay rates in the private sector, I bet they are unable to do that today.
There must be a very good reason why every young person now wants to join the police service, the military, the fire service, the Immigration and all the other services and not try the private sector.
It cannot be just because of the attractive uniforms.
Now the distinctions are blurring between the various parts of the public service as well. You would hear that the military have been given a certain rate of increment in their pay and therefore the police would demand the same rate; the Fire Service would also say they should be given the same rate and on it goes.
Do they all perform the same type of service and should they be paid the same?
It is not the done thing to ask such questions about people who work in the medical services.
Doctors and nurses are special and they deal with us when we are at our most vulnerable, therefore no one in his or her right mind would ever begrudge whatever is paid them.
I remember when the Additional Hours concept was introduced, which sought to compensate the doctors for the long hours they work, over and above the stipulated hours we are all expected to work.
When it came to the implementation, other medical staff who work regular shifts, all found good reason why they should be included, and who could then challenge the secretarial staff and those who work on the payroll, or famously the gardeners who argued that it was best to water plants after 5pm and they therefore also deserved to be paid additional duty hours.
When schools were closed for almost year, nobody suggested that teachers in public schools should not be paid.
Many teachers in private schools had drastic pay cuts or were not paid at all, hotel staff were laid off or placed on half pay.
Everybody accepted that it was the price to pay for receiving higher pay in the private sector.
In the private sector if you are Secretary to the Chief Executive of a company that is making a lot of money, you would be paid a lot of money and you would expect to work very hard and all hours.
Here, we want every Secretary to be paid the same.
You would find in the public sector many examples of the phenomenon termed “analogous” institutions, whereby the terms and conditions of service of one organisation are deemed to apply to another institution. The most interesting examples are the positions that are said to be equivalent to ranks in the judiciary.
Seems to me, if you are a judge, you are a judge and there cannot and should not be anything that is analogous to be being a judge.
A State Attorney would be a State Attorney and an Electoral Commissioner is just that and not analogous to an Appeal Court Judge.
The drafters of the 1992 Constitution must have had their reasons for landing us with Article 71.
There is no need to add to the list of the beneficiaries by sneaking other people in through the analogous route.
It is easier to deal with the political class who are the original beneficiaries and hopefully have a conversation that might lead to us taking a second look at the remuneration formula for members of the Legislature and the Executive.
That will never happen when bureaucrats have been smuggled into the group. I have digressed.
Let us accept that conditions have improved dramatically in the public sector.
They are no longer pretending to pay us. It must mean that we cannot also continue to pretend to work.