Widening the gender gap : Report

Widening the gender gap : the impact of public sector pay and job cuts on the employment and working conditions of women in four countries

Report by Lionel Fulton, Labour Research Department
June 2011

Executive summary

• Governments across Europe are cutting jobs in the public sector in order to reduce government deficits, and in many cases they are cutting public sector pay as well. However, there has been little examination of the impact of these cuts on women. This report seeks to redress the balance by looking at the situation in Ireland, Latvia, Romania and Spain – all countries where governments have cut public sector pay as well as public sector jobs.

• In all four states, the public sector is crucial for women’s employment. The public sector employs 42% of all women employees in Ireland, 39% in Latvia, 24% in Spain and 21% in Romania. In addition, more women than men work in the public sector: women make up 72% of all public sector employees in Ireland, 63% in Latvia, 54% in Spain and 53% in Romania. The public sector has also, at least until recently, paid women more than the private sector, which has raised the average figure for women’s pay in the whole economy.

• All four states have introduced measures that have sharply reduced public sector pay and that have cut employment in the public sector or will do so in the future. In all four the initial programme of cutbacks has been followed by additional, more far-reaching reductions.

• Despite the importance of the public sector as an employer of women, none of the four states has assessed how their policies of cutting public sector pay and jobs are affecting women.

• Unions have not always draw attention to the impact of these policies on women, in part because of the wide range of issues they are required to tackle with limited resources. However, unions in Spain, and to a lesser extent Ireland, have highlighted how women have been particularly affected.

• Only Latvia and Romania provide up-to-date statistics which allow the impact of the cuts on women’s pay to be assessed. In Latvia, there is evidence that in the public sector women’s pay has fallen by more than men’s. In Romania women’s pay has fallen more than men’s in some parts of the public sector, but not in education. However, in both countries the reduction in public sector pay and loss of public sector jobs has meant that the overall gender pay gap has widened. In Latvia, while in 2008 women earned 15.2% less than men on average, in 2011 they earned 16.9% less, and in Romania, the gap between men’s and women’s pay has grown from 7.8% in 2008 to 12.6% in 2010.

• Cuts in public sector employment have led to tens of thousands of women losing their jobs, particularly in Romania and Latvia, and in some areas, such as public administration in both Ireland and Latvia, women have been more affected than men.

• Cuts have also had a direct impact on equality structures, with the Ministry of Equality being abolished in Spain and funding for programmes for women being sharply reduced in Ireland.

• Cuts in public sector pay and jobs have taken place within the context of wider government measures some of which, such as cuts in child benefit and increases in the retirement age, have had a particular impact on women.

• The report concludes with a number of recommendations, in particular that there should be adequate statistics to measure the position of women in the public sector and that governments should undertake an assessment of the impact on women of cuts in public sector pay and jobs.

- full report

- answer Viviane Reding

- see also our press release here

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