Seventh Pay Commission is no ogre
(The Hindu Paper Report on 7th CPC)
The report of the Seventh Pay Commission (CPC) is set to be released soon. The new pay scales will be applicable to Central government employees with effect from January 2016. Many commentators ask whether we need periodic Pay Commissions that hand out wage increases across the board. They agonise over the havoc that will be wrought on government finances. They want the workforce to be downsized. They would like pay increases to be linked to productivity. These propositions deserve careful scrutiny. The reality is more nuanced.
Its recommendations’ impact need not give us jitters because the rise in government wages will amount to only 0.8 per cent of GDP.
Perhaps the strongest criticism of Pay Commission awards is that they play havoc with government finances. At the aggregate level, these concerns are somewhat exaggerated. Pay Commission awards typically tend to disrupt government finances for a couple of years. Thereafter, their impact is digested by the economy. Thus, pay, allowances and pension in Central government climbed from 1.9 per cent of GDP in 2001-02 to 2.3 per cent in 2009-10, following the award of the Sixth Pay Commission. By 2012-13, however, they had declined to 1.8 per cent of GDP.
This happened despite the fact that the government chose to make revisions in pay higher than those recommended by the Sixth Pay Commission.
Today, Central government pay and allowances amount to 1 per cent of GDP. State wages amount to another 4 per cent, making for a total of 5 per cent of GDP. The medium-term expenditure framework recently presented to Parliament looks at an increase in pay of 16 per cent for 2016-17 consequent to the Seventh Pay Commission award. That would amount to an increase of 0.8 per cent of GDP. This is a one-off impact. A more correct way to represent it would be to amortize it over, say, five years. Then, the annual impact on wages would be 0.16 per cent of GDP.
The medium-term fiscal policy statement presented along with the last budget indicates that pensions in 2016-17 would remain at the same level as in 2015-16, namely, 0.7 per cent of GDP. Thus, the cumulative impact of any award is hardly something that should give us insomnia
There are a couple of riders to this. First, the government is committed to One Rank One Pension for the armed forces. This would impose an as yet undefined burden on Central government finances. Second, while the aggregate macroeconomic impact may be bearable, the impact on particular States tends to be destabilizing.
The Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC) estimated that the share of pay and allowances in revenue expenditure of the States varied from 29 per cent to 79 per cent in 2012-13. The corresponding share at the Centre was only 13 per cent. The problem arises because since the time of the Fifth Pay Commission, there has been a trend towards convergence in pay scales. The FFC, therefore, recommended that the Centre should consult the States in drawing up a policy on government wages.
It is often argued that periodic pay revisions would be alright if only the government could bring itself to downsize its workforce — by at least 10 to 15 per cent. From 2013 to 2016, the Central government workforce (excluding defence forces) is estimated to grow from 33.1 lakh to 35.5 lakh. Of the increase of 2.4 lakh, the police alone would account for an increase of 1.2 lakh or 50 per cent. What is required is not so much downsizing as right-sizing — we need more doctors, engineers and teachers.
Downsizing of a sort has happened. The Sixth Pay Commission estimated that the share of pay, allowances and pension of the Central government in revenue receipts came down from 38 per cent in 1998-99 to an average of 24 per cent in 2005-07. Based on the budget figures for 2015-16, this share appears to have declined further to 21 per cent. In financial terms, this amounts to a reduction of 17 percentage points over 17 years or an annual downsizing of 1 per cent. It’s a different matter that it is not downsizing through reduction in numbers of personnel.
Improving service delivery in government is the key issue. Periodic pay revision and higher pay at lower levels of government relative to the private sector could help this cause provided these are accompanied by other initiatives. The macroeconomic impact is nowhere as severe as it is made out to be.
(T.T. Ram Mohan is professor at IIM, Ahmedabad)