Cuts in public sector pay and employment: the impact on women in the public sector

EPSU Report, February 2016

Executive summary

(3 March 2016) The current report is the third that EPSU has produced looking at how governments’ responses to the financial crisis have affected women working in the public sector. It examines the situation in eight countries, the Czech Republic, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, Spain and the UK, and for each it sets out the position in terms of:
-* government action on overall public sector pay and employment,
-* the impact on women’s employment in the public sector,
-* the impact on women’s pay in the public sector, and
-* the way cuts have affected equality structures.

An earlier EPSU report has shown that, with the possible exception of Portugal, the potential impact on women of government austerity measures was not assessed in advance in any of the states examined.
All the eight states sought to cut public spending by cutting the public sector wage bill, through a combination of pay freezes (UK) or actual cuts in money wages (the remaining seven) and reductions in public sector employment. However, in most states a combination of gradual economic recovery plus growing political opposition to the government austerity policies has meant that the pressure on pay and jobs in the public sector has eased. The two main exceptions are Greece and the UK.

In terms of women’ employment, government policy has led to fewer jobs for women in the public sector in five countries, Greece, Latvia, Portugal, Romania and Spain. In the three others, where there appears to be growth in women’s public sector employment, this is based on employment in public administration, education and health, as employment figures broken down by sex are not available for the public sector.

There is a similar lack of information on women’s pay. Only three countries, Latvia, Romania and the UK, provide public sector pay data for women and men, and in Ireland and Greece there is no current data at all on women’s earnings. However, the information that is available shows that women’s earnings in the public sector have lagged behind men’s in Latvia, Romania and the UK, and this also appears to be the case in Spain and Portugal. Almost everywhere the gender pay gap is opening rather than closing.

The impact of cuts on gender equality structures is clearly affected by the overall political situation, and, although everywhere there were cuts in funding and activities at the start of the crisis, there appear to have been some recovery, linked to changes in government, in the Czech Republic, Greece and Romania. Things have also got better in Ireland. However, nowhere has the position been restored to the pre-crisis level. Until very recently the position was continuing to worsen in Portugal, Spain and especially the UK, where the budget of the main body dealing with equality has been cut to a third of its pre-crisis level. However, elections in Portugal and Spain at the end of 2015 may result in changes.

Overall, the position in the eight countries examined is more varied than in EPSU’s earlier reports, although the lack of information on many aspects of women’s employment and pay in the public sector is still a major concern. In Greece and the UK, in particular, the pressure on women’s jobs and pay in the public sector remains severe. Even in countries where the position of women in the public sector is again starting to improve, it is likely to be difficult to regain everything that was lost.

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