A new report shows that precarious work is a serious problem in the public sector, and this trend is hurting women, especially marginalized women. In their paper Women and Public Sector Precarity, Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW) members Leah Levac and Yuriko Cowper-Smith, working with CUPE and other participating unions, explore the causes, conditions and consequences of employment precarity.  

Precarious employment (part-time, contract, temporary and low-wage employment) is a huge problem in the private sector, but the media, some employers and policy makers at least seem to recognize that trend. Unfortunately, the growth of precarity in health care, postal services, universities, schools and other parts of the public sector is often ignored. Public or private, no sector is immune; neoliberalism attacks workers and the communities we serve.

The paper explores data and studies published since 2000. The findings include the following:

  1. Employment is increasingly precarious in the public sector;

  2. Privatization, deregulation and other changes associated with neoliberalism are behind this trend;

  3. Employment precarity degrades the quality of jobs and services;

  4. Women experience the worst effects;

  5. Indigenous, racialized and LGBTTI women, and women with disabilities face distinct and multiple disadvantages.

CUPE members can use this paper to show employers, politicians and potential allies that globalization, market-model management, contracting out and other changes have diminished public sector jobs and services. The 48-page paper presents data and examples from a range of sectors and jurisdictions across Canada. It also describes some of the recent union and community campaigns defending quality public services.

CUPE Equality played a significant role in this project: recommending the collaborative study, securing union funding and contributing to the analysis. This report is part of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded, Changing Public Services project by CRIAW, partnering unions, women’s organizations, and universities. This particular project was funded through a Mitacs Accelerate Grant, with matching funds from CUPE, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the Canadian Labour Congress.