Life and Times Blog

Get what you pay for…

The recent Doctors strike got me thinking again about remuneration in the public sector. The more I mulled, and discussed, the more stupefied I was.

Teachers, Policemen, Doctors, Nurses. These are the people in the frontline of creating and sustaining a healthy society. Tasks that are obviously of overwhelming importance. Yet, jobs that rank near the bottom of the salary scale. Where’s the logic?

In normal corporate logic, that machine of widely acclaimed empirically derived efficiency, the most strategic people in an organisation are given the best remuneration. So those whose actions have the widest impact, ie nearer the top, get the best salary, so as to attract and retain the best.
If we apply the same logic to society as a whole, then all of the jobs mentioned above should be the best paid, because they form the frontline of healthy society, ie smart people, safe people, healthy people. Without being smart, safe or healthy, the human machine isn’t in much of a position to function.

All over the world this should apply, more so in a developing nation which is in a more desperate situation of needing these basic blocks to be established.

I would even extend the call for improved pay to other civil servants, all people working in government are employees of society, servicing its broadest needs. I have high respect of people in the civil service for this reason. And there are those who say if they gave better service, they should get better pay. But I think to attract better, we have to first pay better. If the job of Government is to create infrastructure for society to function in, physical and social infrastructure, then surely we should want our best and smartest working at that as that would be the foundation of all else that occurs in our environment.

I acknowledge a few problems with this call though, the first of course being funding. I personally think we should have a basic salary of R800k (that’s an arb figure that seems high enough) for the primary functions, ie Education, Health, Safety, less of course for new entrants, more for accomplished members. But how do we pay for this? No idea.
But let us consider that a more educated society has proven to be more productive, so theoretically, the investment in salaries in education would pay for itself through improved productivity of learners who eventually enter the workforce.
In terms of safety too, crime has a real cost, and improved policing would reduce those costs, through eventually reducing the amount of policing required, the costs of maintaining the legal processes to deal with criminals, the costs of housing criminals, insurance costs, replacement costs, public healthcare costs for victims…
Healthcare is a bit trickier in terms of the cost savings, it would definately impact on productivity, preventive costs are cheaper than curative costs etc

Of all the above though, more significant than the financial offsets, is that these are basic human rights, and having any respect for the dignity of human beings should be more than enough of a motivator for pushing for improved services.

The Quran says in Chapter 95, vs 4: ” We have indeed created man in the best of moulds”, it is vital that we at least create an environment which facilitates the ability of man to realize his full potential. Without the basic blocks in place, a healthy society, man is limited in his natural tendency to this goodness.
[More about Islam and the dignity of Man can be found by clicking this link.]

A sort of Maslow’s hierarchy applied at a society wide level.

A second major challenge, and where the public sector would differ from the private, is monitoring. In corporates, an individuals performance is diligently scrutinized to ensure that his salary is justified. There isn’t the same degree of monitoring in the public sector and this would be critical. It would be foolish to just drive up salaries whilst maintaining and attracting the same quality and enthusiasm of the employees.

Diagnosing problems is easy of course, but being vocal is the first step. When the challenge is realised as being sufficiently important, people will respond with their ability to answer the solutions.

Also a disclaimer, there may be tons of inherent complexity involved in what I’ve said, that I’m ignorant of, but until i’m enlightened, I think it makes sense. There are plenty of more involved, academic papers on this topic, above is the blog version of the gripe.

On education, below is a quote from a paper by Paula Armstrong of Stellenbosch Univeristy.

“Teachers are seen as the “central actors in education, facilitators of learning, bringers of knowledge, brokers of relationships between pupils and the societies in which they live” (Voluntary Services Overseas [VSO], 2002). Within developing societies specifically, teachers are often perceived to be the central learning resource given the difficult working and living conditions prevalent in these societies. The scarcity of teaching resources often renders teachers the only channel through which society is able to achieve its educational aspirations. “Teachers interaction with learners is the axis on which educational quality turns” (VSO, 2002).


May 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments