Nova Scotia

N.S. civil servants get $2.3M in merit pay

Nova Scotia's government provided $2.3 million in merit pay to more than 1,000 civil servants in the last fiscal year, a practice it says helps reward and retain staff in a competitive environment.

Nova Scotia's government provided $2.3 million in merit pay to more than 1,000 civil servants in the last fiscal year, a practice it says helps reward and retain staff in a competitive environment.

In 2010-2011, amid a time of fiscal restraint in the province, merit pay was granted to 1,007 employees out of a non unionized workforce of about 1,800, including clerical workers, communications advisers and department directors.

A list detailing the merit pay was obtained by The Canadian Press under access-to-information legislation. The final merit pay figure was provided by the province's Public Service Commission.

Overall, merit pay accounted for about three per cent of the $77.2 million in pay for the 1,007 workers.

The provincial government says merit pay is used in most provinces and is needed to keep employees.

Deputy premier Frank Corbett said merit pay helps retain workers and keeps salary increases of non-unionized employees in line with those negotiated with unionized workers.

"It's a fair way to treat our employees," said Corbett, who also serves as the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission.

"You have to stay cost competitive and this is one way of doing it."

But Liberal Opposition Leader Stephen McNeil says merit pay should be reviewed in a province that recorded a $12.8-billion debt in the last fiscal year.

"When the government is going around the province asking every Nova Scotian to tighten their belt because of the tough financial predicament, they should be looking at every avenue to save money internally," he said in an interview.

 "One of the ways is through merit pay."

The amount of merit pay an employee received varied.

Eight civil servants, including a chief financial officer and seven department and regional directors, received biweekly increases of $241.66 — or about $6,283 a year.

On the other end, some clerical workers received $17.22 biweekly in merit pay, or about $448 a year.

N.B. suspended merit pay

Seventy-three communications staff were also granted merit pay, many of them receiving about $2,000 annually.

Brendan Langille, a spokesman for Communications New Brunswick, says that province has suspended its merit pay program as part of a general wage freeze for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Langille said it was done as part of an austerity program and will save $1.5 million.

Corbett said the Nova Scotia government isn't planning such a change.

"Governments before us have gone through these merit increases and I defend it because it's a way to get people to progress through the (salary) scales," he said.

The province's Public Service Commission website says employees' performance is evaluated through a performance management system that requires the employee to be employed for at least six months before receiving merit pay.

Each year a manager reviews an employee's performance and awards merit pay based on whether job expectations were met, said Jason Clow, a compensation consultant with the Public Service Commission.

He said the highest raise possible under the system is six per cent of an employee's salary.

Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario also have merit pay systems for non-unionized employees. But officials in those provinces said figures on the overall costs were not available.

In British Columbia, civil servants can receive a series of pay increases based on time served, but there is no discretionary bonuses or merit pay, an official in that province said.

In Saskatchewan, a similar system of merit-based raises is in place for about 1,937 non-unionized employees, but the annual cost was unavailable, said a spokeswoman for that province's Public Service Commission.

Nova Scotia has been tightening budgets in a number of other areas over the past two years.

Earlier this year, the government announced it was reducing its funding for the province's eight school boards by $17.6 million or 1.65 per cent in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

The province's Justice Department recently cut both the adult and youth supervision programs to save $170,000 annually.

In 2009, the newly elected NDP government cut the annual pay increase for non-unionized workers to one per cent. Since 2005, they were given annual wage increases of 2.9 per cent.

At the time, Corbett said the one per cent hike was what the province could afford for the employees, whose base salaries range from $33,000 to $139,000.