Thu | Sep 28, 2023

Letter of the Day | Important context needed in salary debate

Published:Saturday | May 27, 2023 | 12:15 AM


There is more heat than light in the debate about pay increases for parliamentarians. Politicians on both sides of the argument are conflicted and cannot lead public discourse. The people just don’t believe them. It means that other opinion leaders must take the lead and guide the debate to rational shores. Unfortunately, this isn’t being consistently done, and the public discourse on this issue is being led by irrational and angry people.

I saw a viral TikTok video which appeared to be organic, the arguments reasonable, and the content delivered with great passion. It was very believable and moving, but only to the ignorant mind. It started off with the national anthem in the background and a fairly attractive young lady, purporting to be a teacher, saying that she could not in good conscience go to work after the increases announced by Minister Clarke, given that teachers only got a $30,000 per year increase, while politicians got $19 million.

The first inaccuracy is that no increase in any category of teachers’ pay resulted in only $30,000 per year. My check on the Ministry of Finance website, which has the increases for all public-sector workers, shows the classroom teacher entry-level salary scale moving between 58 per cent and 87 per cent, resulting in actual cash increases starting at least $1 million per year.

The second inaccuracy is that the purported teacher was not comparing like for like. Teachers’ salaries were adjusted to approximate 80 per cent of market in 2008, and then benefited from subsequent inflation-mitigating increases. Ministers’ salaries were last adjusted to approximate 80 per cent of market in 2002, and that was only partially done because a wage freeze resulted shortly thereafter. The fact is that salaries at the higher level of the pay scale were suppressed in favour of giving relatively larger increases to those at the lower end and middle of the salary scale over the years. This meant that the leadership and management level of the public sector drifted farther away from market prices over time, which explains the inability of the Government to attract and keep the best talent in the public service.

The appropriate comparison would have been the highest salary scale for teachers, which is the principal level, to the permanent secretary/minister scale. Some principal positions were adjusted by over 150 per cent, which is comparable to the increases of permanent secretaries and ministers.


The prime minister’s job is not the same as the classroom teacher. Further, I do not subscribe to this nonsense argument that prime ministers must be remunerated closer to the pay of the average public-sector worker – public service is NOT charity work. We are unable to hold our politicians to account because we treat our political system like a charity. This is precisely why we are a poor country. If the classroom teacher is upset about inequity in her pay, she should make a TikTok post quarrelling with the JTA president for negotiating higher increases for principals, while accepting lower increases for classroom teachers.

The ignorance of the society is worrisome, and the viscerally emotional response to this matter is unhelpful in moving the country forward. The simplest way to look at the problem of compensating a prime minister or a minister is to ask yourself, what would you pay a prime minister if you had to hire him as you would a CEO of a large company? I am sure you wouldn’t get the best one for $28m.