Progress Through the Ranks Increases

Categories: Bargaining Updates 2012, CPI, merit, PSA, Salary, Salary Increases

The salary structure of every university in Canada comprises, to a greater or lesser extent, two major components; across-the-board increases (Bargaining Blog 2012 – Salaries at Comparator Institutions) previously discussed), and progress through the ranks (PTR), which at UBC is also called the career advancement plan (CAP).

As explained in our May 25, 2010 blog:

Salaries in most jobs are characterized by seniority-based pay systems. This is partially to account for increasing productivity over time, but primarily it is designed to defer compensation from the early part of the employee’s career to the latter part. Depending on the nature of the job, the salary-experience gradient may be short and steep or long and gradual. Universities typically have very long gradual deferred salary systems with faculty starting at salaries well below the salaries they expect to have at retirement, and typically reaching top-of-scale at a very senior stage, or possibly not at all.

If across-the-board increases keep pace with inflation and with salaries at other major universities, the structure of the PTR scheme will determine the ratio of
salaries at retirement to starting salaries.  Unfortunately ATB increases have not kept up over the last couple of decades, contributing to salary compression.

At UBC, and at many other universities, the value of PTR is determined as a percentage of salary (1.25% for Career Progress Increments, 0.75%  for Merit, and 0.5% for PSA). Consequently the average value of PTR varies from year to year. In 2011 the average PTR value was $3,006. While not the highest in Canada (for example, at the University of Alberta it was $3,779 and at the University of Ottawa it was $3,691), the percentage value, at 2.5%, is pretty typical.

In our 2010 survey we asked a series of very detailed questions about the structure of our PTR system and got a very strong message back that members were happy with the general structure (although they did express concerns about the transparency and fairness of  Merit and PSA decisions). Consequently we did not propose any changes to the general structure of PTR either in 2010 or in this round.

There are a couple of specific features of the UBC system that have caused some problems, and we have proposed a few minor adjustments that we think will improve the system.

First, the value of an increment at UBC is not set in value, but is allowed to be determined residually. As a result, it rises every year, sometimes by significantly more than the ATB increase. For example, over the last two years the value of an increment rose by almost 8%, while ATB was 0%.  Because members earn more increments early in their career than later in their career, this too contributes to salary compression. For example, an Assistant Professor hired in 2009 would have received, in his or her first two years, 20.8% more than somebody hired just four years previously would have earned in his or her first two years. These differentials obviously compound over time. We have proposed capping the CPI value at $1,500 (currently it is $1,618) and distributing the excess equally to all members eligible to receive merit/psa/cpi.

Capping increments and allowing them to increase in pace with inflation is a much more common approach in Canadian universities than the one we currently use at UBC.

Additionally, the structure of our Merit pool means that there will often not be enough Merit for all members of a unit who are, in fact, meritorious. For example, according to data provided by the university, last year in the English department (chosen for this example because its large size will minimize the effect of random variations) there were only 25 merit units available, meaning that fewer than 45% of members could receive merit. This certainly represents a potential constraint in the fair distribution of PTR. We have proposed allowing departments to award ½-units of merit, where they think it is appropriate to increase the number of members who could receive merit, or to deal with difficulties caused by cross-listed appointments.

We have also proposed an extension of the long-service increments, which proved popular with members when introduced in the last round, and we have made a technical proposal concerning the date at which increments and Merit/PSA are made which would eliminate the need to delay those payments during every bargaining round.