Report: Pay and the gender wage gap in health and social care
Report of EPSU Study on pay in the care sector in relation to overall pay levels and the gender pay gap in different countries in the European Union, by J. Pillinger, February 2010
EPSU commissioned this report before the current global financial crisis knocked on our doors and swept in across all sectors of the economy including public services. Indeed, as the report goes to press, public sector workers across Europe are fighting reductions in pay and services. A large number of these workers, often already underpaid, are women paying the cost of a failing financial and economic system that has been geared towards the few rather than the many.
The report is the result of prior discussions in the EPSU Social services working group, Health and Social Services and Gender Equality committees. It examines the pay levels in health care, child, elderly and other dependant care (home or residential) in 8 EU countries compared to national average wages in the public and private sectors, the extent of the gender pay gap, and the relationship with the overall national gender pay gap. The results are alarming.
In the countries surveyed, workers in health and social care earn below national average earnings (with the exceptions of Estonian nurses and carers for the elderly in some regions of Germany). Earnings of unqualified or lower skilled workers are often at minimum or basic wage levels or not much higher; whereas qualified and professional staff earn salaries below those in comparable jobs in other sectors of the economy. In addition to low pay and low status, precarious contracts, irregular working hours and few career opportunities complete the picture.
Even though staff shortages and the demand for care workers are expected to grow exponentially in an ageing Europe, governments fail to improve the attractivity of this sector.
The gender dimension is self-evident. In the European Union, at least 80% of employees in the health and care sector are women. Many of them are migrants which brings the question of ethnic discrimination to the fore. The report brings alive what we mean by a persistent undervaluation of women’s work as the key cause of inequalities based on gender. It brings us at the heart of why women earn on average in the EU 17% less than men. EU governments and the Commission regularly state their good intention to close the gender pay gap. But they fail to recognise that improving the wages of women-dominated jobs and sectors, as called for by the EPSU congress last June, is part of the answer.
Yet it does not take much arithmetic to work out that improving wages and working conditions in the care sector will reduce the average gender pay gap. It will give incentives to attract more men and thus help reverse the so-called gender segregation of our economies. Gender segregation is seen by the Commission and governments as one of the main causes of the gender pay gap. However, why improving women’s wages in this sector is not part of the equation? Cost? But then, what is the longer term cost of having underpaid staff that provide care and treatment to our children, parents, friends and ourselves?
The report also shows that the age profile of home carers means many will retire in the next ten years. Unless we take steps to encourage young people into the profession, by giving them a clear career structure and scope for development, we will be turning the current recruitment difficulties we’ve got now into a full-blown crisis.
The report highlights the problems of organising and funding services in the current climate of reductions in funding and restructuring, including the privatisation and contracting out of services.
Current reforms and restructuring in this sector have to be gauged against their effects on quality working conditions especially decent pay levels and their contribution to gender equality, not against public deficit reductions. Ensuring that the pay levels of services that are contracted out are equivalent to rates in the public sector must be underpinned by EU regulations, including a revised equal pay directive.
This report is an alarm bell for actions to improve public care services, which are critical to any serious strategy aiming at closing the gender pay gap and getting the right balance between work and family life.
It offers examples on how our affiliates are tackling the question. We are grateful to Jane Pillinger for this report and useful recommendations addressed to EPSU, our affiliates and EU decision-makers. We also thank our affiliates who have helped provide the data.
Comparing wages between countries and within different sectors can be complicated in the absence of much comparable data available. This report contributes to this difficult exercise which is essential for basic trade union work and for getting a better deal for women. While further research will be needed, the findings are clear.
A pay rise for Europe’s care professionals is long overdue.
Carola Fischbach-Pyttel, EPSU General Secretary
Brussels, 12 February 2010
For the full report: