MONTREAL, Aug. 18, 2014 /CNW Telbec/ - The public hearings on Bill 3 are soon to be underway. The Association of Suburban Municipalities on the Island of Montreal (ASM) is of the opinion that it is time to establish the facts regarding the remuneration of municipal employees. The ASM, based on a study conducted by the Institut de la statistique du Québec (ISQ), concludes that municipal employees receive an overall remuneration that is head-and-shoulders above that of the Quebec civil service. The ISQ study is based on an analysis of 77 comparable jobs – which necessarily excludes certain positions unique to the municipal world such as bus drivers, firefighters, and police officers.
"The municipal unions are right about one thing in their attitude to municipal pension reform: their members have stolen absolutely nothing. But that does not change the fact that, 'all in', Quebec municipal employees are paid 38% more than Quebec civil service employees, according to the ISQ," said the Mayor of Westmount and spokesperson for the ASM, Peter F. Trent.
Trent added: "If the overall remuneration of municipal employees is 38% higher, it is not, as the unions would have us believe, because their members accepted low salary increases in the past in exchange for more generous pension benefits. Even their base salaries are 18% higher than those of Quebec civil servants."
How did this 38% spread come about?
Over many years, municipal officials have been hamstrung by very weak legal powers whenever it came to establishing their employees' remuneration. First, there was a 20% legislated cut in Quebec civil servants' salaries – a cut that did not affect municipal employees – which started the ball rolling in 1982. Next, between 1991 and 2001, this spread widened thanks to government-appointed arbitrators who settled disputes regarding certain collective agreements by being overly generous to municipal employees. Then, over ten years ago, municipal mergers resulted in a standardization of salaries and benefits that inevitably and predictably brought them level with the highest common denominator.
All these factors, which were just amplified by increasing pension fund deficits, explain why Quebec municipal employees make today, on average, 38% more than their provincial counterparts.
Pension fund deficits were made worse by government decisions
The cost of pension plans in 2011, according to the ISQ, was the equivalent of 22.9% of the average salary of municipal employees, yet only 6.6% of those of the Quebec civil service – nearly four times as much. Aside from the 2008 stock market meltdown, at least two reasons were behind this difference. First there were the municipal pension fund contribution holidays permitted and even encouraged by the Quebec government from 1998 to 2001. These holidays were a way for municipalities to find the cash to pay the 6% of payroll legislated by the same government to help reduce provincial budgetary deficits. To make things worse, a federal law required that reserves could not be more than 10% of pension fund assets. Since most of the funds were, at the time, in surplus, the solution was to take further pension fund contribution holidays for the employers, and to increase employee pension benefits for the employees.
Future remuneration negotiations have to be framed by Bill 3
The ASM's position is that it is essential to conduct good-faith negotiations with municipal employees. However, without the additional pressure created by Bill 3, the ASM is concerned that the result of negotiations will be similar to those in the past; that is, the 38% difference will remain and nothing will be solved.
The Association of Suburban Municipalities represents 15 municipalities on the Island of Montreal, with an approximate population of 242 600 citizens. The municipalities represented by this brief include Dollard-Des-Ormeaux, Côte-Saint-Luc, Pointe-Claire, Kirkland, Westmount, Beaconsfield, Town of Mount Royal, Dorval, Hampstead, Montreal West, Baie-d'Urfe, Senneville and Dorval Island.
The ASM press release and a fact sheet are available at www.westmount.org.
 The "overall remuneration" includes fringe benefits (such as pension plans, health insurance, etc.) and also factors in the actual number of hours worked.
 In municipalities with a population of over 25,000, these municipalities represent 68% of the total Quebec population.
SOURCE: Association of Suburban Municipalities
For further information: Mayor Peter F. Trent, 514-989-5240; To book an interview: Richard G. Gervais, Wagram Communications, 514 507-1134, ext. 0