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Women in EU public sector face higher risk of losing jobs

The public sector in the EU offers many highly qualified jobs and is a major source of employment for women. But increasingly, those positions are being lost to austerity policies.

News | 30 July 2012
GENEVA (ILO News) - Women working in the public sector in countries of the European Union (EU) have been particularly hard-hit by recent cutbacks in jobs, wages and benefits, according to a joint ILO European Commission study titled “Public Sector Adjustment in Europe”.

In a chapter on gender, written by Jill Rubery, Professor at the University of Manchester, the study (made public on 28 June 2012) warns that these cuts will damage progress made towards gender equality.

Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead, a Senior advisor to the Conditions of Work and Employment Programme of the ILO, and the Editor of the study, says that because women generally find more and better jobs in the public sector, they are particularly affected when that sector implements austerity measures.

The study shows that women in France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom have the most to lose due to their heavy dependence (45 to 50 per cent) on the public sector for employment, especially in higher level jobs.

Across Europe, women are better represented in the public sector than in the private sector, due to the provision of higher salaries, as well as to the existence of a higher proportion of skilled jobs which require a better educated workforce.

In the UK, 28 per cent of women in the public sector are considered “better educated,” compared with just 18 per cent in the private sector. In Lithuania, the number of better educated women working in public sector jobs is double that working in the private sector.

It is precisely these high-quality jobs that are being lost through austerity policies implemented in the public sector and which are not easily replaced by similar jobs in the private sector.

Even for low-skilled jobs, public service wages generally have been higher than in the private sector and have played a role in reducing gender pay discrimination, particularly in countries with low or no floors for wages in the private sector.

The progressive replacement of this wage premium for those working in the public sector by a wage penalty, as witnessed in a number of European countries like Hungary, Romania, the Netherlands, affect women in the public sector.

Dr. Elisabeth Klatzer of the University of Economics and Business in Vienna says that on the whole, the wage gap between men and women is far lower in the public sector than in other sectors.

As more women leave the workforce, and cuts in social spending continue, the unpaid work traditionally performed by women will increase, contributing to a major setback for gender equality in the workplace, says Cristina García Sainz of Madrid’s Universidad Autonoma.

Diane Elson, an Emeritus Professor at the Department of Sociology of the University of Essex, agrees that further cuts would harm gender equality, but believes that many European countries could soon abandon austerity policies.

Contact information: Journalists interested in accessing the study should contact ILO spokesperson Hans von Rohland +4122/799-7916,