Women in public sector hit hard by economic crisis
by Dean Carroll
Women are at risk of suffering most from the austerity measures being implemented by member state governments, the European Federation of Public Service Unions has claimed. In a bid to push politicians into action, the EPSU sent a letter to European Commissioner Viviane Reding - demanding that her office takes action to ensure the gender pay gap is not rolled back as a result of the cuts.
The federation has five million female affiliated members. And evidence arising from an EPSU-commissioned study by Lionel Fulton of the Labour Research Department shows that in some countries, which have implemented drastic cuts to public sector jobs and wages, women have been disproportionately affected. In conclusion, the report stated: "Employment in the public sector is crucial to women's overall employment, both in terms of number but also in terms of the pay they receive. Despite this, governments do not undertake an assessment of the particular impact on women of the measures they take." The federation insisted it had serious concerns about the long-term effects "short-sighted austerity policies will have on gender equality" through "measures served up as part of the bitter austerity diet – such as cuts in child benefits and care provision for children and older people".
These initiatives put an extra burden on low paid women workers, a group of society that was not the root cause of the financial crisis – claimed EPSU – in deep contrast to bankers receiving large bonuses. Chairwoman of the EPSU women and gender equality committee Gloria Mills said: "We have struggled for many years for equality and a better understanding of the gender pay gap and the measures needed to address it. But, the harsh austerity policies focused on the erosion of the public sector are putting what progress we have made at risk. This is unacceptable and we will fight to ensure that the gains we have made are not eroded. Equality on all fronts is a mark of a united and civilised society – it is not just for times of economic prosperity."
Backing her, EPSU General Secretary Carola Fischbach-Pyttel added: "While there is undoubtedly a need for better European economic governance, the package currently being adopted is taking us in the wrong direction. We see yet another example of a clear contradiction between the objectives set out in European Union policies - such as the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Gender Equality Strategy 2010-2015, and the concrete actions being pursued".
In the letter to the commissioner - EPSU demanded gender impact assessments, up to date "de-gendered statistics" on employment and earnings in the public sector provided by member states, action to address low-pay, revision of EU public procurement rules to strengthen the social dimension - including equality clauses – and an assessment of the social impacts of the financial crisis.