Provincial policies make working life tougher for women

Weakened public services and employment standards reduce women’s employment opportunities and undermine equitable working conditions
December 9, 2004

(Vancouver) The combination of cuts to public services and weakened employment standards in BC has hit women especially hard, according to a new study that examines the impact of recent government restructuring on women’s economic equality.

Because women make up both the majority of public sector workers and those who rely on public services, cutbacks disproportionately affect women’s employment opportunities and the conditions under which they participate in the labour market.

In 2002, 71% of provincial public sector workers were female. Spending cuts and privatization initiatives implemented since then have resulted in a total loss of more than 20,000 public sector jobs, nearly three quarters of which were held by women.

“Public sector downsizing is especially harmful to women because it shrinks an important pool of jobs that are both relatively secure and equitably paid,” says Sylvia Fuller, co-author of Women’s Employment in BC: Effects of Government Downsizing and Employment Policy Changes 2001-2004. The study was released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Says Fuller, “When we compare men’s wages in the public and private sectors, we find that those with similar jobs and qualifications earn about the same. However, women’s wages in the public sector are substantially higher, even when we compare similar workers. Our research shows that this is not because the public sector pays women too much, but because the private sector pays them too little.”

Cuts to public services, changes in education policy and weakened legal protections for workers have also combined to undermine key employment conditions for women. These include:

  • Cuts to child care and long-term care, which increase the amount of unpaid work performed by women and affect their ability to participate equally in the labour force;
  • Changes in education policy, including the elimination of the tuition freeze and non-repayable grants, and making full-time students ineligible for welfare benefits. These and other changes make post-secondary education — and the higher wages and better job opportunities it provides — less accessible to low-income British Columbians, who are disproportionately women;
  • Numerous changes to the Employment Standards Act, including a reduction in the minimum shift to two hours, the exclusion of farm workers (most of whom are women and immigrants) from minimum standards, and significant reductions in monitoring and enforcement. Weakened minimum protections for workers disproportionately impact women, who are over-represented in low-wage and precarious jobs.

Marjorie Griffin Cohen, a CCPA research associate and professor of Women’s Studies at SFU, says “The provincial government portrays paid work as the path to self-sufficiency. But its policies make it harder for women to find and keep decent jobs.”


To arrange an interview, call Avi Goldberg at 604-801-5121 ext 229.