Brazil
Chapter

Chapter 13 Rightsizing the Public Sector Wage Bill

Author(s):
Antonio Spilimbergo, and Krishna Srinivasan
Published Date:
March 2019
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Author(s)
Izabela Karpowicz and Mauricio Soto 

Brazil’s public sector wage bill is comparatively high and competes with other spending. Rightsizing the wage bill is necessary to comply with the federal government expenditure ceiling, stimulate administrative efficiency, and bring more equity into the system. A reform should include subnational governments, where most of the public employment is concentrated and where the wage bill has grown pronouncedly in recent years. Brazil’s wage bill grows inertially owing to automatic progression rules. To contain its growth, therefore, it is necessary to reduce salaries in real terms and shrink employment through attrition. In the medium term, a review of the compensation structure should simplify the wage grids, merge allowances into the base wage, and align government pay to private wages in low-skill professions.

Rightsizing personnel expenditure—in this chapter denoted as the wage bill—is coming to the fore of the reform agenda in Brazil. As the government strives to meet multiple goals—regain fiscal sustainability, comply with fiscal rules, and improve income distribution—taking a closer look at the wage bill across all government levels becomes necessary.

To comply with fiscal rules and ensure fiscal sustainability, Brazil must contain the wage bill. A 2016 constitutional amendment limits the federal government’s primary expenditure growth to the rate of inflation. Meeting this rule requires a break from historical trends: on average, the federal wage bill increased by about 4 percent a year in real terms during 2000–16. In subnational governments, containing the wage bill is fundamental to maintaining personnel expenditures below 60 percent of the net revenues ratio (at least two states are already surpassing this level), as mandated by the Fiscal Responsibility Law.

Reviewing government compensation can have productivity spillovers. Growth of wages in the public sector may put pressure on economy-wide wages because, across many professions, public wages can be used as benchmarks for private sector compensation. Evidence suggests that Brazil’s wages have grown above productivity in recent years and may be hindering job creation and growth (Lipinsky 2015). In addition, high compensation levels in the public sector can crowd out available skills that are much needed to support private sector competitiveness and job creation.

Moderating civil servants’ wage growth would be equitable. Over the past decade, labor formalization, income growth, the government social welfare program Bolsa Família, and schooling have contributed to declining inequality (Góes and Karpowicz 2017). But growth of civil servants’ incomes has affected equality negatively. To the extent that wages are higher in the public sector than in the private sector, systematic government wage increases have undermined the success of redistribution policies and slowed equality gains in Brazil.

The Brazilian experience in managing the wage bill can provide lessons to other countries that might also need to evaluate government compensation and employment practices in the context of broader reforms. International experiences suggest that increases in the wage bill tend to be associated with worse fiscal outcomes and can have adverse implications for private sector employment (IMF 2016). In some countries, wage bill policies have had limited success in achieving their objectives while exacerbating fiscal pressures and constraining inclusive growth (Tamirisa and Duenwald 2018). The literature suggests that blunt responses such as wage and hiring freezes can provide temporary relief. Structural reforms that target sectors with excessive employment and wage levels, supported by strong institutions, are required for more sustained wage bill adjustment while protecting service delivery.

In the general government, expenditure on compensation of employees reached 13 percent of GDP in 2016 (Figure 13.1). The wage bill includes spending on wages and salaries (10 percent of GDP) and the government’s social contributions as an employer (3 percent of GDP). The wage bill accounts for a substantial portion of government expenditure. In the federal government, the wage bill is the second-largest primary spending item after social security benefits. In state and municipal governments, it is nearly half of primary expenditure.

Figure 13.1.Compensation of Employees, 2016

(Percent of GDP)

Source: IMF, Government Finance Statistics.

Subnational governments account for a large share of the general government wage bill. Nearly 75 percent of the wage bill and 85 percent of government jobs are in state and municipal governments. This approach reflects the division of responsibilities: about 55 percent of employees in state and municipal governments work in health, education, and security, compared with 35 percent in the federal government (Figure 13.2). The federal government including the judiciary accounts for 8 and 17 percent of federal government employment and the wage bill, respectively, and the military accounts for 28 percent and 13 percent of federal government employment and the wage bill, respectively.

Figure 13.2.Government Employment, 2015

(Percent of working-age population)

Source: PNAD (Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios, National Household Sample Survey).

Substantial pay disparities occur across the different levels of government. Average compensation levels are considerably higher for civilians in the federal government (about to R$6,000 per month in 2015) than for military (about R$3,500), state officials (about R$3,500), and municipal employees (about R$1,900; Figure 13.3). While federal government employees tend to be better educated (Figure 13.4), the differences in pay across governments remain controlling for schooling, with wider differences for those with high school or more.

Figure 13.3.Government Monthly Pay, 2015

Source: PNAD (Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios, National Household Sample Survey).

Figure 13.4.Share of Employees with Education beyond High School

(Percent)

Source: PNAD (Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios, National Household Sample Survey).

The wage bill varies considerably across states. As a share of their own GDP, states spend between 4 (São Paulo) and 20 (Roraima) percent of GDP (Figure 13.5). Poorer, smaller states in the north and northeast tend to spend more on the wage bill (as a share of their economy and per capita) and have higher government employment (as a share of the state population). An exception is the federal district (DF), where the central government administration is located, which has the highest per capita wage bill. The government wage bill in the education sector follows a similar pattern—higher in poorer states and dispersed (between 0.8 and 4.5 percent of state GDP). Public health wage bills are substantially smaller.

Figure 13.5.Government Wage Bill and Employment

(By state, 2015)

Source: PNAD (Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicilios, National Household Sample Survey).

Note: Data labels correspond to the five geographical regions of Brazil: N for North, NE for Northeast, CW for Central West, SE for Southeast, and S for South.

The Need for Government Wage and Employment Reform

The wage bill has been increasing, particularly in subnational governments, raising concerns about fiscal sustainability. Spending on employee compensation increased by 1 percentage point of GDP in 2010–16, largely reflecting higher wage expenditure in state and municipal governments. In the federal government, although the wage bill increased in real terms over the six years, it has remained broadly constant in percent of GDP. This is the case for employee compensation in the federal executive, judiciary, and legislative branches.

The wage bill is at a high level relative to peers. At 13 percent of GDP, the wage bill is substantially above comparators, including advanced economies (where the average compensation of government employees is 10 percent of GDP), emerging market economies (9 percent of GDP), and Latin America (8 percent of GDP; Figure 13.6). This is true even considering only spending on wages and salaries (see Karpowicz and Soto 2018 for a discussion of measurement issues and cross-country comparisons). Employee compensation stands at nearly 45 percent of general government revenue, a much higher share than in advanced and emerging market economies (Figure 13.7). Brazil also spends more on compensation of public employees in per capita terms than other emerging markets do. Adjusted for purchasing power parity, Brazil’s wage bill per capita is higher than the average observed in LA5 countries (Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru), Latin America and the Caribbean, emerging market economies, and the entire sample of 158 countries.

Figure 13.6.Compensation of Employees, 2016

(Percent of GDP)

Source: IMF staff calculations using World Economic Outlook and Government Finance Statistics data.

Figure 13.7.Compensation of Employees, 2016

(Percent of government revenue)

Source: IMF staff calculations using World Economic Outlook and Government Finance Statistics data.

Curtailing the federal government wage bill is crucial to compliance with the constitutional expenditure ceiling. A constitutional rule caps the federal government’s primary expenditure growth at the rate of inflation. To comply with this rule, federal government expenditure must be reduced by 2.5 percentage points of GDP (from about 20 to 17.5 percent of GDP in 2017–23). This will require pension reform (to offset the projected growth in pension spending), substantial reductions in other expenditure items, and a reduction in federal government expenditure on personnel by at least 1 percentage point of GDP (Figure 13.8). Such adjustment in the wage bill requires a break from historical trends—the federal wage bill has traditionally increased in real terms, and complying with the rule will imply real reductions. In state governments, reducing the wage bill is important to compliance with the Fiscal Responsibility Law.

Figure 13.8.Federal Government Expenditure, 2017–23

(Percent of GDP)

Source: IMF staff calculations.

The considerable space taken by the wage bill limits other productive spending. Brazil’s wage bill is six times greater than public investment. This reflects a very low public investment level in Brazil and high spending on personnel (Figure 13.9). Furthermore, the wage bill is procyclical. In real terms, the wage bill has displayed some procyclicality over the past three decades, increasing on average 0.47 percentage point for a 1 percent increase in the output gap, above the emerging market average (IMF 2016).

Figure 13.9.Public Investment and Wage Bill in Latin America

Source: IMF staff calculations.

Note: Data labels in the figure use International Organization for Standardization (ISO) country codes.

In the past decade, government wages have outpaced those in the private sector—public wages increased by nearly 45 percent in real terms, while those in the private sector increased by about 25 percent. Such growth puts pressure on economy-wide wages as, across many professions, public wages can be used as benchmarks for private sector compensation. This can also crowd out available skills that are much needed to support private sector competitiveness and job creation.

The level of pay is the main factor explaining the relatively high wage bill. Brazil’s general government employment is about in line with that observed in other emerging market and developing economies (below 9 percent of the working-age population), albeit slightly higher than in other Latin American economies (Figure 13.10). In contrast, relative to other countries, Brazil’s government workers command a substantially higher pay premium than those in the private sector. Controlling for observable characteristics (including age, education, and gender), public pay is about 30 percent higher than pay in the formal private sector. This markup is substantially higher than the average markup (9 percent) for countries in the Luxembourg Income Study data set (Figure 13.11). This is consistent with recent work that shows that, controlling for observable characteristics, public sector wages are as much as 50 percent higher than private wages for those with fewer years of education, but the premium decreases somewhat at higher educational levels (Góes and Karpowicz 2017).

Figure 13.10.Government Employment

(Percent of working-age population)

Source: IMF staff calculations using World Economic Outlook and Government Finance Statistics data.

Figure 13.11.Public Wage Premiums, by Country

(Percent)

Source: IMF staff calculations using Luxembourg Income Study data.

The wage gaps would be even higher from the perspective of lifetime income. Lifetime net pension benefits are also higher in the public sector. The net transfer received by the government (the difference between all retirement and survivor benefits, on the one hand, and all contributions paid by or on behalf of the employee, on the other hand) is particularly high for public workers, implying a high internal rate of return on their pensions (see Chapter 11). When controlling for the more generous retirement benefits, public-private cumulative lifetime pay differentials are even higher.

Government workers, particularly those in the federal government, are among those better off in the earnings distribution. Most government workers are in the top two quintiles of the earnings distribution (80 percent of federal government workers and 55 percent of state and local government workers; Figure 13.12). To the extent that wages are higher in the public sector than in the private sector, systematic government wage increases might have undermined the success of redistribution policies and slowed equality gains in Brazil.

Figure 13.12.Distribution of Employment, by Sector and Earnings Quintile

(Percent of total)

Sources: Monthly Employment Survey (PME)/Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE); and IMF staff calculations.

The Federal Government in Focus

At the federal government level, timely payroll data are publicly available from the Transparency Portal. The monthly payroll data for more than 580,000 civilian employees include name, position, total earnings, terms of contract, and tenure (Table 13.1). Mean federal earnings are about R$9,600 (the median is R$7,700). Earnings at the 90th percentile are 5.4 times those at the 10th percentile, with more compression by skills (the ratio is about 3 within lower- and higher-skill positions). More than 95 percent of those on the payroll have permanent contracts. The average tenure is 16 years, with higher tenure for those in lower-skill positions.

Table 13.1.Summary of Civilian Federal Payroll, October 2017
Gross Monthly Salary1Contractual (percent)Tenure (years)Employees (thousands)Percent of
MeanMedianP90-P10EmploymentWage Bill
Lower Skills5,6855,1153.07.319.52734728
Clerical5,3644,9742.77.319.52093620
Technical6,7336,2722.81.119.864118
Higher Skills11,64111,3243.22.614.32744757
Professional9,5418,6302.60.914.61933
Professor12,01211,6303.20.911.21312228
Health Care13,90713,8494.11.117.22035
Analyst14,00413,3973.21.212.13468
Management23,87224,9431.50.415.936615
All9,6117,6475.44.216.3583100100
Source: Brazilian Transparency Portal.

Reais.

Source: Brazilian Transparency Portal.

Reais.

The civilian federal workforce includes a diverse range of skills and pay. Clerical, administrative, and technical employees account for 47 percent of employment and 28 percent of the federal government wage bill. The rest corresponds to professionals (including higher-education professors, management and high-ranking government officers, health and social security professionals, and police). The different shares of employment and compensation reflect pay differentials largely related to levels of education and responsibility: the average monthly pay of clerical and administrative employees is about R$5,700, while professionals earn R$11,600 a month and high-ranking officers R$23,900 a month.

The compensation structure depends on multiple career streams that reward seniority and complicate wage bill management. More than 130 career streams (carreira) set specific rank and pay progression and allowances for government employees, defined across occupational and professional job categories (OECD 2010). These streams are often entity-specific, preventing mobility across ministries. Only about one-quarter of the federal workforce is under “job groups” that allow for mobility across different entities.

Higher-skill positions command higher earnings. In a log-earnings specification, controlling for entity and geographical location, lower-skilled workers earn about 68 percent less, while those in managerial positions earn 65 percent more, relative to workers in professional positions (Table 13.2).

Table 13.2.Coefficients of Log Earning Regressions
AllAllLower SkillsHigher Skills
Lower Skills-68
Management6562
Contractual-26-65-17-139
Tenure 0–20 Years2.82.92.03.3
Tenure 201 Years-0.3-0.4-0.1-0.7
Entity ControlsYesYesYesYes
State ControlsYesYesYesYes
Job Description ControlsYesNoNoNo
Number of Observations (thousands)567567262306
R20.680.620.280.61
Source: IMF staff calculations.Note: All coefficients shown are significant at the 99 percent level.
Source: IMF staff calculations.Note: All coefficients shown are significant at the 99 percent level.

Seniority is an important determinant of earnings. Each additional year of tenure up to 20 increases earnings by 2 percent in low-skill positions and 3.3 in high-skill positions. However, the premium for additional years of tenure disappears after 20 years. This reflects the typical wage profile associated with many careers, with automatic increases of 3–4 percent for the first 10–20 years of service in professional posts (in other words, pay would be about 30–40 percent higher for those with 10 years of tenure compared with new entrants in comparable positions) and 1—2 percent in clerical positions.

Pay also includes a performance component. Federal government pay also includes a performance-based bonus [gratifcacoes e bonus de desempenho) that reflects the attainment of institutional (80 percent) and personal goals (20 percent). However, these bonuses can only be weakly related to performance: nearly 80 percent of the government workforce received the bonus in 2017.

The multitude of careers and wage grids introduces disparities in earnings for similar positions across different entities. Controlling for position, terms of contract, tenure, and state, federal government earnings vary substantially across entities (Figure 13.13). These differences can be striking and seem to contradict the principle of equal pay for equal work. On average, a motorist in the Ministry of Energy earns about 30 percent more than in the rest of the federal government, and a telephone operator in the Ministry of Transportation earns 53 percent more than in the rest of the federal government.

Figure 13.13.Wage Differentials by Federal Entity

(Percent)

Source: IMF staff calculations.

Note: Coefficients of entity in log-earnings regressions controlling for job position, tenure, and state. The excluded entity is the Ministry of Education, which has average earnings slightly below the average for the federal government. Wage differentials are similar for low-skilled workers.

The wage structure is relatively compressed, introducing some distortions. More than 90 percent of federal government civilian employees receive earnings above R$3,500 (R$3,100 after tax withholding and deductions). This is more than 3.5 times the minimum wage and nearly equal to the average earnings a professional could expect to earn in the private sector. The combination of relatively high government wages for low-skilled workers, the high returns to seniority, and the disparate compensation by entity explain why workers in clerical, administrative, and technical positions often earn higher wages than those in entry-level professions. For example, an auxiliar (assistant) with 10–20 years of service can earn a salary higher than an entry-level engineer.

The wage scales are updated periodically through agreements between the federal government and the different categories of workers. Agreements can cover different groups under different careers and wage structures, such as the police, teachers, and doctors, as well as the Ministry of Finance and the Treasury. For example, in the 2015 salary accord, the government and employee representatives agreed to a salary increase in two steps: 5.5 percent to be effective August 2016 and 5 percent to be effective January 2017. This was originally agreed to with about 70 percent of workers representing different career streams and entities, and later extended to the wider federal sector. However, these adjustments were delayed during the crisis, and the first adjustment took place only in January 2018.

Reform Options

Government wage bills are inertial. The constitution provides job stability to government workers after three years of service (Article 41). Thus, meaningful employment reductions can be achieved only by attrition (replacing fewer workers than those who retire). The constitution also states that government remuneration cannot be reduced in nominal terms (Article 37. XV). Thus, pay adjustments can generally be made only by limiting wage increases. And even in the absence of negotiated pay increases, nominal wages tend to increase automatically with the seniority premium that applies to most careers.

To achieve fiscal savings in the near term, wages would have to fall in real terms and the employment-to-population ratio would have to decrease. In a baseline where annual negotiated wage increases are above the rate of inflation (consistent with recent experience) and government employment grows in line with population growth, the wage bill would remain roughly stable in percent of GDP. Achieving fiscal savings would require substantial adjustments to remuneration and hiring. For example, achieving total savings of 0.5 percentage point of GDP would require freezing average remuneration in nominal terms (that is, no negotiated wage increase) and halting new hiring for the next five years (Table 13.3). This illustrates the magnitude of measures that are likely required to comply with the constitutional expenditure ceiling. In state and municipal governments, a similar adjustment would achieve savings of nearly 2 percentage points of GDP.

Table 13.3.Illustrative Options for Containing the Wage Bill
201720182019202020212022
Federal Government
Wages and Salaries Spending (baseline)2.52.52.52.52.52.5
Impact of Freezing Wages-0.1-0.2-0.3-0.4-0.5
Impact of Halting New Hiring0.0-0.1-0.1-0.1-0.2
Wage Bill (after measures)2.42.22.12.01.9
State and Local Governments
Wages and Salaries Spending (baseline)7.67.67.77.77.77.7
Impact of Freezing Wages-0.3-0.6-0.9-1.2-1.5
Impact of Halting New Hiring-0.1-0.2-0.3-0.4-0.5
Wages and Salaries Spending (baseline)7.26.86.56.15.7
Source: IMF staff calculations.
Source: IMF staff calculations.

Containing remuneration growth: The relatively high government wage premium relative to the private sector indicates room for saving without affecting service delivery (freezing average wages for about five years would be necessary to realign pay to that of the private sector). The government should consider a multiyear agreement with employees to maintain wage increases below the rate of inflation. An alternative would be to differentiate negotiated increases by performance while maintaining the average increase under the rate of inflation. In addition, the government should review nonsalary pay, including existing bonuses and allowances (auxílios). This should be done for both the federal government (including the legislative and judiciary) and the subnational governments, where the compensation structure of health-care professionals should introduce incentives to increase productivity (World Bank 2017).

Containing employment growth: Because employment levels do not seem high relative to other countries, initial efforts should be made to enhance workforce flexibility. There might be room to curtail employment growth, particularly for low-skilled individuals in the federal government, where one-third of employment comprises clerical positions. Nevertheless, any curtailment in hiring should be well targeted to entities and positions with identified overemployment and supported by measures to better allow for job movement across the different entities of the federal government. In state and municipal governments—where most of the growth in employment has occurred in the past decade (World Bank 2017)—any employment adjustments would need to be carefully targeted to ensure adequate service delivery. For example, in education, attrition-based policies should target school districts with relatively low student-to-teacher ratios (World Bank 2017).

In the medium term, it is necessary to rethink the compensation structure. Structural adjustments require a review of the legal framework that regulates pay and employment. Multiple wage grids must be simplified, starting by merging careers for which the wage structure overlaps. Wages should be gradually realigned with the private sector, particularly for low-skilled individuals, for whom the wage premium seems to be the highest. The seniority increases should be either eliminated or greatly reduced (an average increase of 3 percent per year of seniority is excessive in an environment of 4 percent inflation) and linked to performance and job responsibility. However, structural reforms to the wage structure will take time and carry risks—unifying salary structures tends to push personnel costs up; in a transition, setting different compensation levels for the same job can complicate human resource management; legal risks can mitigate the savings—and thus should be considered carefully. There might be scope for improving wage composition and transparency by limiting the number and size of allowances, including by setting a limit on the weight of these in total remuneration by individual and entity. In light of the high wage bill, a review of employment and compensation in the judiciary could be considered, but it would need to satisfy the peculiarities imposed by the legal framework and ensure continued trust in the system.

Particularly for state and municipal governments, long-term workforce planning should reflect demographic developments. Assuming a constant ratio of public employment in total population, as in the 2015 National Household Sample Survey, and population aging, as projected in national statistics per the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, the ratio of teachers to students through tertiary education will grow from 38 per 1,000 students in 2016 to 44 per 1,000 students over the next decade. To maintain a constant ratio of teachers to student-age population over this period, the teachers’ population would have to decline by about 10 percent of total employment in education (nearly 250,000 teachers). Estimated savings on the wage bill from such a decrease are in the order of 0.15 percent of GDP and, given the retirement profile of teachers, could be achieved easily through attrition.

Brazil urgently needs to enhance its oversight and fiscal transparency of subnational government wage bills. Real-time payroll information—such as that available in the Transparency Portal for the federal government—should be available for subnational government employment and remuneration, following common standards. This effort would support the monitoring of fiscal rules and inform measures needed to comply with efficiency and sustainability objectives. Moving toward a medium-term budget approach should help improve human resource management.

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