Job Envy

by Mr. Cheap

Some time ago Mike’s post on the Toronto Garbage Strike struke a cord with readers and generated 85 comments.  A large amount of the discussion focused on unions (from a philosophical perspective more than that specific union or strike).  One comment that had a particularly interesting part to it (from semi-frequent commenter Brendan) focused on the idea that being jealous of someone for their job is silly, if you think their job is so much better than yours, switch to it!

My brother used to get this a lot.  People at the job site where he worked would rant about how good he has it.  After listening to them rant, he’d say that they’re hiring for his position, and encourage the person to apply.  At that point the person would either point out a part of the job they wouldn’t want to do, or admit they didn’t have the academic credentials to do it.  The pregnant silence afterwards hopefully led some of his co-workers to an understanding:  There’s a reason why jobs offer the benefits they do, it’s all a trade-off.

One of my uncles, by marriage, is always going on about what a sweet deal teachers have in Canada (it’s actually a very well paid and respected profession in Canada).  He loves to have people listen to him talk, so he makes stuff up.  He’s a high school drop out and wasn’t able to get through the academic requirements needed to teach, so now he gripes about those who have managed to actually become teachers.  As an armchair psychologist, it’s pretty clear to me that he complains about teachers out of bitterness that they are able to earn a living doing what he wishes he could.

I read an interesting article some time ago that made the assertion that students are quite savvy at choosing college majors.  Even if industry and government is saying there are lots of jobs in an industry (or that their will be), the “wisdom of crowds” kicks in and students tend to move to areas where the high paying careers actually are.  If a genuinely sweet deal appears (such as computer workers during the dot-com boom), massive numbers of people get trained for this career, flood the market, and drop the salary down to a more appropriate level.  Similarly, if there’s a job no one wants to do, eventually market pressure forces companies that need those skills to pay top dollar to get them (like Cobol programmers).

The only time this doesn’t happen is when you get a barrier to entry for a specific field.  This was one part of Brendan’s comment that I felt was somewhat misleading, it isn’t like we can all go sign up with CUPE tomorrow.  Typically union jobs are tough to get (sometimes going to the children of senior union members).  A large number of people would be willing to do the work the strikers were refusing to do, even at a lower pay rate.  But they weren’t able to.

At the opposite end of the employment spectrum you have a similar situation with Canadian doctors.  I was in pre-med for my first couple of years at university, and my classes were PACKED with smart, eager kids who wanted to get into medical school (and become doctors).  The extremely limited number of positions at Canadian medical schools meant that the majority wouldn’t get in.  Similarly there are hordes of foreign trained doctors who would love to come and practice in Canada, but quotas restrict the number that can actually enter to a fraction of applicants.  The argument supporting the limited number of positions (to train new doctors or admit foreign M.D.s) is to ensure high standards and protect the health of Canadians.  If this was actually why there were doing it, they’d have a minimum entrance requirement, then admit EVERYONE who was above this.  Clearly the goal is to actually restrict the number of jobs and, like the unions, provide superior benefits to those in the field.

Feel free to make snarky comments that I’m only dogging doctors since I didn’t become one :-).

If us computer workers had gotten protections for our jobs we might have been able to keep the gravy train flowing after the dot-com bust (and perhaps avoided the whole offshoring situation).  I think computer people are far too free-market oriented to unionize (or put other barriers in place to protect their jobs).  I certainly am.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Phil

As the spouse of a doctor, I agree wholeheartedly that the number of doctors in this country is restricted to continue to maintain superior bargaining power.

However, there is another angle, and this one is a catch 22 situation that is heading towards a disaster of untold proportions. Canada doesn’t have the resources – vast amounts of time and money – to train large numbers of new doctors or certify physicians from other countries.

Most Canadian physicians have overloaded practices. The baby boomer tsunami started a while back and they simply don’t have the time to take on students who would get under their feet. Most good clinicians are also not interested in working in teaching hospitals. How are we to train the new specialists we need if we have hardly anybody available to do it?

2 Four Pillars

Brendan’s argument is silly. When people complain about the cost of something ie a car, an airline ticket or government salaries (which the taxpapers pay for) they are complaining about the cost versus perceived value.

In the case of city workers, it’s quite clear that we aren’t getting very good value for the salaries which is a problem. That doesn’t mean anyone who notes this wants one of those jobs.

It’s all about getting value for our money.

3 DocSpouse

I like Phil, am a spouse of a Doc – but I disagree with him.

The number of doctors getting trained is not limited by the doctors themselves. It is the Universities who limit that…. and it is the Gov’t who limits how much money the Universites get to train the docs. etc.

On the point of foreign docs. The majority of the ones trying to get into our system that can’t get in directly NEED additional training. My wife trains residents, and it would make her life a lot easier if all her residents were trained in Canada. The ones who were trained elsewhere (and have practiced elsewhere) need more attention than the ones just starting their residency here.

4 Phil

DocSpouse –
I suspect we’re saying the same thing. The number of doctors available to teach at the universities and teaching hospitals is severely limited largely because they make so much more money in private practice. Without enough teachers, universities can’t accept more students – whether they like it or not. I don’t know how much it would cost the government to make it anywhere near comparable, but my guess is that it’s virtually unaffordable to train all the medical students the country ideally needs.

In addition, if more physicians left private practice to teach, there would be an even bigger physician shortage in the short term than we already have.

I just don’t see a clear solution to the problem. It’s only going to get worse in the next few years, with more doctors reaching retirement age, a higher percentage of female doctors who are more likely to balance their work/private lives, and of course, a larger patient population with so many baby boomers hitting the age where they need more medical care.

5 sam

DocSpouse,
My brother is one of those new comer drs… I have to disagree with you for the following reasons:
1. If you have practised in say UK or France for 20 years, do you really need to train again for 4 more years to qualify to become a Canadian dr?
2. My brother took 2 years of exams only to become licensed to work in Canada but none of the provinces! does that make any sense, really?
3. He could not take the exams all at once, he had to wait 6 months or even a year between exams. If the objective is to accept good drs, they can simply accelerate the rate at which exams(if not residence) can be taken as long as they are passing them and have sufficient experience.
4. My brother moved to NF, because he could get licensed in few months as opposed to Ontario, where he had to take 2 more years of exams. Are Ontarians that more important than NewFoundlanders?
5. I understand that some new comers need attention due to language or cultural barriers, but that can be rectified specifically as opposed to treating them as fresh out of school drs, especially if they are fluent.

Phil,
It is true that our case is a catch 22, but these things can always be solved by enforcing special quotas, where an existing dr. must supervise residents so many hours a week in order to be able to get a certain status or increased income.
Also giving higher salaries for residence supervision is not a big deal, since we are not taking that dr out of the work force, we are simply reducing his hours worked directly (or over paying them over current quota) to gain a resident who is in the work force reducing the load.

6 sam

Mr Cheap,
Brendan argument is not valid. Us, the tax payers are not jealous of the CUPE jobs, we are paying for these services and believe that the services provided are not up to standards with the payment we are making.
If you walked into a burger joint, and received bad service, complaining does not mean you want to make minimum wage taking that job.
The CUPE workers held us the tax payers hostage, because:
A) we have no other option but to get their services (there is no way to stop paying taxes and hire private contractors, or ask the city to hire private contractors)
B) As you said, not everyone can get that job, a lot of people would love to do that job for half the pay and would be better at it than what we receive.
C) If union workers are good at doing their job, and think that they should earn more, they can simply quit that job and find another one that pays better (Its not like they have special skills that only qualifies them to work for the city). Holding the city hostage just because they can, then demand unreasonable compensation is not acceptable.

Finally, and this is not related to Brendan’s comment, but I think the CUPE workers were stupid:
1. Miller is their best ally, they have weakened him and chances are the next mayor will be anti union, good luck getting any good contract then.
2. They lost the tax payers sympathy… imagine if they said that “due to current conditions we will accept the deal for 2 years and negotiate then when things improve”. People would be very sympathetic to their cause the next time around.

7 MoneyEnergy

Well, there is an argument for over-dilution, I think. Just look at the PhD glut. Or the lawyer glut. There are “barriers” (i.e, merit-based) to getting into these fields, too, and there are still too many for the positions needed…. so what’s going on there?

8 guinness416

Doctors and time …. I dunno, our doctors in NYC tended to have office hours seven days a week and including some very early/late hours. The only doctor we were “lucky” to find here is available 10-3 four days a week, the local walk-in isn’t much better, and I’ve asked, they ain’t working at the hospital the balance of thw workweek. Maybe he’s unusual though (if there were any other doctors furrin or otherwise I could confirm that) as he clearly hates his job. Sam, it’s a shame your brother isn’t in ON.

The grass is always greener …. doing what I do for work, I spend a lot of time with both the trades and the white collar construction people. Trust me, both think the other side has a sweet deal.

I do think there was a lot of jealousy expressed during the strike (although maybe not here). It may have been venting rather than actually wanting to become a binman, but it was definitely there. I wonder what the stats are on how many people visited the City of Toronto and other government employment pages on their websites during the strike. I know I poked around on them!

More importantly, does Mike let you bank your sick days, Mr Cheap?

9 Phil

Sam:
In theory yes, but in practice, who would be in a position to enforce such quotas? Maybe it’s not quite as dire in other parts of the country, but here in southern Ontario the doctor shortage is so desperate that there is very little any body (whether it be the government, the colleges or the hospitals) can do.

The surgeons I know who won’t take on student rotations in their practices all say they slow them down too much. Even the nurses don’t want students under their feet! Patient waiting times are so long that it’s hard to argue for even longer waiting lists, even though it’s obvious that training more doctors and giving them more OR time (but thats a whole other kettle of fish) is whats needed. I do agree that once trained, residents can help lessen the workload, but the bottleneck is the time required to do the training in the first place.

As it is, there are a couple of surgeons that I know of in our city who shouldn’t be operating for one reason or another. The shortage is so dire that the hospitals don’t have what it takes to remove their privileges.

Any way I think about it, the ageing and sickening public is screwed. I dont see voters gathering up the political will to demand significantly more dollars from our stretched tax base to make healthcare work. I also dont see doctors and nurses settling for less pay, especially in the current situation when its so hard to get anybody from bankers to unionized workers to make concessions. Its about money, but its also about deeply entrenched vested interests. The underlying problems in Canadas healthcare system are not transparent to the public and the politicians wont talk about them honestly.

Your best bet is to do what you can to stay healthy because it’s only going to get worse.

10 Mike

Guinness – Yes, Mr. Cheap can bank all his sick days. Of course, it should be noted that he doesn’t actually get any sick days…or any time off at all for that matter! 🙂

11 Mr. Cheap

sam: I agree with you.

ME: Things like merit weren’t what I meant by barriers. I guess you could break things into natural barriers (such as scholastic aptitude for a PhD, physical prowess for a fire fighter or social skills for a sales person) and artificial barriers (such as unions or “quotas” for doctors). I have no problem with natural barriers (expecting people to do a good job), I don’t like artificial ones (arbitrary political rules designed to protect those already working in the field).

Guiness416: That sucks that you’ve had so many problems with the local health care (interesting to hear your experience contrasting it with the US).

12 Mike

MDJ talked about doctor salaries a while back and I was amazed at the amount that GPs make. $260k? Sorry, but that’s too much for what they do.

http://www.milliondollarjourney.com/doctor-salaries-not-as-high-as-you-think.htm

13 Phil

The $260k number in the table is before overhead. Net is $155k.

14 Mike

I stand corrected – I thought the “net” was just after taxes.

In that case $155k is a lot more reasonable.

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