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Public Sector Pay at a Glance

14 Jul 2011

Barra Roantree

The OECD have released the latest edition of their comprehensive 'Government at a Glance' report, which compares the structure and effectiveness of governance in the OECD across a range of areas, from public procurement to e-government and transparency. This post and the accompanying infographics look at government employment, compensation, and hours worked in European members of the OECD.


There is considerable variation in the size of general government employment as a percentage of the labour force across the European Union, shown in infograph #1. As the OECD notes, this "reflects the choices countries make regarding the level and modes of public service delivery". It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Scandinavian countries employ almost twice the OECD average of 15 percent, given their reputation for placing high importance on public services.

The definition of the general government sector spans central, state, regional and local government in addition to agencies and non-profit institutions that are controlled and mainly financed by public authorities.

The data comes from the International Labour Organization (ILO) LABORSTA database, and is available from the OECD website.

Infograph #1

Hours worked

In addition to variation in the numbers employed in the public sector, there is significant variation in the number of hours worked by those employees. Infograph #2 shows the average hours per year worked in central government, which ranges from 1545 hours per year (Portugal) to 1913 hours per year (Switzerland).

The data is taken from the 2010 'OECD Survey on the Compensation of Employees in Central/Federal Governments', and again is available on the OECD website.


Infograph #2

Public Sector Compensation

Increasing pressure on European governments to consolidate large fiscal deficits has lead to debates on appropriate pay levels in the public sector, given the significant proportion of government spending that pay constitutes.

The following infographics show the relative total remuneration of public sector managers and secretarial staff across those European OECD countries which took part in the 2010 OECD survey. The survey looked at not only salaries and wages, but also social benefits and future pension earnings of comparable public sector occupations. This overcomes many of the problems frequently encountered in 'benchmarking' exercises, which compare public sector pay levels against private sector positions that may not involve the same responsibilities.

Infograph #3

Data at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932390747

Infograph #4

Data at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932390766

Infograph #5

Data at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932390804

Lastly, the OECD have put together a short video using this information to outline the trends in government spending that have occurred against the background of the economic crisis. It is worth a look and illustrates the importance of comparative data for policy makers facing difficult decisions.

Get the data.

2010 OECD Survey on the Compensation of Employees in Central/Federal Governments, OECD STAN Database.

27.1 Average annual compensation of central government senior managers: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932390747

28.1 Average annual compensation of middle managers in central government (2009): http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932390766

30.1 Average annual compensation of employees in secretarial positions (2009): http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932390804

34.1 Average working hours per year by central government employees (2010): http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932390880

International Labour Organization (ILO), LABORSTA Database

21.1 Employment in general government as a percentage of the labour force (2008): http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932390538


Ireland: Data takes into account the decrease in salaries following the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009. Social contributions rates are for staff hired after 1995 and exclude unfunded pension schemes though the pay-as-you-go system.

Spain: Major reductions in compensation were introduced in May 2010 that are not reflected.

Methodology for compensation comparisons:
From Annex D of OECD 'Government at a Glance 2011'

Working time adjustment: "to put the compensation of employees reported on a comparable basis across countries, the difference in the working time (number of hours worked per week in the civil service, annual leave entitlements … and statutory holidays) is used for the calculation of the adjusted annual average compensation. For senior managers, since weekly working time applies very unevenly to this category of employees, data were adjusted only for holidays".

D1 managers are top public servants below the Minister or Secretary of State. They could also be members of the senior civil service and/or appointed by the government or head of government. They advise government on policy matters, oversee the interpretation and implementation of government policies and, in some countries, have executive powers. D1managers may be entitled to attend some cabinet meetings. They provide overall direction and management to the Minister/Secretary of State or a particular administrative area. In countries with a system of autonomous agencies, decentralised powers, flatter organisations and empowered managers, D1managers correspond to Directors General.

D3 managers plan, direct and co-ordinate the general functioning of a specific directorate/administrative unit within the Ministry with the support of other managers, usually within the guidelines established by a board of directors or a governing body. They provide leadership and management to teams of professionals within their particular area. These officials develop and manage the work programme and staff of units, divisions or policy areas. They establish and manage budgets, control expenditures and ensure the efficient use of resources. They monitor and evaluate performance of the different professional teams.

Administrative executive secretaries perform liaison, co-ordination and organisational tasks in support of managers and professionals and prepare correspondence, reports and records of proceedings and other specialised documentation. They draft administrative correspondence and assist in the preparation of budgets, monitoring of expenditures, drafting of contracts and purchasing or acquisition orders. They supervise the work of clerical support workers.


Number of staff included in each occupational group

  D1 D2 D3 D4 Economist/Policy Analyst Statistician Administrative Executive Secretary Secretary
Australia   212 633 7007     6804 4661
Belgium 6 9 50 424 3584 3348 115 2745
Chile 55 735 1201   33975   22162  
Denmark 13 28 91 249 486   76 56
Estonia 29   81 64 560 323 36 22
Finland 46   644 275 9130 217 671 2992
Hungary 12 26 85 117 1054   102 97
Iceland 5 5 32   136     58
Ireland 8 55 294 1111 142 8 1242 1603
Italy 149   1588   28310   50885  
Korea 21 220 1015 3417 4296 8121 3443 2573
Netherlands 73 417 373 1942 4085 16247 10746 7389
New Zealand 5 27 107 157 374 490 89 1194
Norway 8 53 182 60 588 433 72 6
Slovenia 50   427   725 25 12 297
Spain 96 618 1432 694 114 11 659 192
Sweden 232 1281 2445 4588 2486 576 6777 3141
United Kingdom 58 273 1073 7974 42558   46667 11759
United States 96 2292 7694 14733 14212 881 1251 6175
Brazil 126 1311 2393 6447 94999 32720 96034 67316

Source: OECD 'Government at a Glance 2011' Table D.1.

This content forms part of the E View project, which is part-funded by DG Communication of the European Parliament. 


As an independent forum, the Institute does not express any opinions of its own. The views expressed in the article are the sole responsibility of the author.

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