FREDERICTON – The provincial government is defending significant pay hikes recently given to thousands of public employees and its decision to keep much of the information secret.

The agreement between the province and the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1252 will see some employees receive pay increases of as much as nearly 35 per cent over the next four years.

The reason for the hefty hikes is pay equity — government’s decision to reexamine the value of different jobs to ensure those held traditionally by women don’t pay less than those jobs that are considered equivalent in skill-set and training. Pay equity also benefits men in those jobs.

However, the formula used to determine why some employees saw their wages jump dramatically is being kept under wraps by government. Government is also refusing to say how much each group of employees represented by the union is receiving under the new deal, citing privacy legislation.

Sarah Ketcheson, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Resources, says the wage increases under the agreement range from 11.26 per cent to 34.95 per cent. Those figures include the basic 10 per cent general increase, meaning anything above that amount is dueto the pay equity evaluation.

“If their job was only adjusted slightly it means that their work, according to the criteria, compensated fairly — that they were where they needed to be,” she says.

Charles Cirtwill of the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies says evaluating jobs for pay equity results in a “mess.”

“This really is a mess, no matter which way they do it. It really is an exercise in trying to make labour peace with the unions and this is the deal that they’ve come to,” says Cirtwill.

Instead of bumping up the salaries of those low-paying jobs traditionally held by women, government should instead focus on encouraging women to enter highpaying sectors, says Cirtwill.

“When you’re trying to set a rule that defines the compensation for each position it gets you inevitably into this kind of gerrymandering when, in fact, a far better way to set the pay is what the employer is willing to pay and what the employees are willing to take.”

A representative of the local couldn’t be reached for comment.

A committee of union and government officials spent more than a year studying the value of different jobs within the union.

The union has 8,300 members who work in the health care system as licensed practical nurses, technicians, tradespersons, paramedics and patient services employees.

More than 5,000 employees completed a “job analysis questionnaire” that was used to create job summaries. Using methodology from Saskatchewan, the committee examined the skill level, effort, responsibility, and working conditions required for each job.

Each job was assigned a number of points for each category and the salaries were then adjusted.

“As they were doing the classification for each job they were looking at them in comparison to one another,” says Ketcheson. “For each criterion they gave points and the points were what determined, not anything about pay, but the points determined where they fell on this grid and how they compared.”

The grid compared clerical jobs, institutional services and patient services. Within those areas are numerous different positions.

However, it remains unknown how those points were determined.

Government did provide general examples of wage increases. For example, some employees in clerical jobs received an increase of 30.10 per cent while other saw an increase of 11.97 per cent. Workers in institutional services, such as counsellors and diagnostic imaging technicians, received increases in the range of 12.34 per cent and 29.42 per cent.

Others received increases of 10.24 per cent.

“Some things may traditionally require a lot of schooling but another job may require so much independent judgment and experience that that would equal out to somebody who needed a lot of formal education,” says Ketcheson.