The so-called “record numbers” in which women are in work obscures an inconvenient truth – that women are hurting now more than ever.
A new TUC report published today (March 9) has found that women have been overwhelmingly funnelled into part-time, low-paid jobs over the past year, with less than half of women’s net job growth coming from full-time work.
On the other hand, full-time work accounted for all the net job growth among men, which reveals the extent to which women are falling behind under the coalition government’s watch.
The vast majority of part-time employment growth among women was in clerical, administrative, caring and cleaning jobs.
According to the TUC report, rates of pay in these part-time jobs are much lower than full-time jobs – the average wage in part-time clerical and administrative occupations in 2014 was slightly above £9 an hour, while the average in caring occupations was £8.12 an hour and in cleaning jobs, the average rate of pay was £6.70 an hour.
Full-time professional and managerial jobs pay more than double these rates per hour, but such jobs are increasingly out of reach for women, who are desperate to work more to make ends meet.
Indeed, there are 300,000 more women working part-time who want a full-time job than there were in 2007 when the global recession first hit, a clear marker that the supposed economic recovery is a distant dream for far too many women.
While younger women find themselves underemployed, not working as many hours as they want to, older women are forced to put off retirement and work longer and harder hours. Last year, almost half a million women worked beyond retirement age, a figure that’s doubled since the beginning of the financial crash.
Women are also leading the way in self-employment – a euphemism for work that’s also part-time, low-paid and insecure. The number of self-employed women has grown by more than 50 per cent since 2008, and these aren’t the start-upentrepreneurs that the coalition government constantly dreams up. To the contrary – most self-employed women are hairdressers, child minders and cleaners, who often earn below the minimum wage.
Unite national officer for equalities Siobhan Endean argued that women aren’t struggling to survive just by chance. The challenges they face are a direct result of political and economic choices – choices that are not inevitable.
“Women remain at the sharp end of Cameron’s vicious economic and social austerity policies,” she said. “As women’s job insecurity rises, wages fall, the pay gap widens and household and living costs rise, women face a daily struggle to keep themselves and their families from slipping deeper into poverty. The TUC survey on women in work today tells the real stories of the everyday issues we as working women still face.”
Endean explained that it’s never been harder to be a working woman, since women now find themselves at the forefront of almost every exploitative arrangement perniciously operating in our modern world of work.
“Women in Unite are struggling to make ends meet,” she said. “We are working in a world where targets are increased once we have met them, we have long working hours of unpaid overtime, two or three part time jobs, insecure work and zero hours contracts, and opaque and unfair pay systems which mean we get paid less for doing equal work to men working next to us.
“When we get pregnant we are likely to be sacked or side-lined and if we return to work we juggle child care,” Endean added.
“If we are diagnosed with cancer or become disabled then our employers find a way of managing us out of the door, and we have to work longer and longer for a meagre pension that won’t cover our basic needs in retirement. As union reps we still face bullying from employers at work when we stand up for women members facing discrimination.”
As dire as the situation is now, the political and economic onslaught that women face can be reversed, Endean went on to say.
“Women have had a belly full of austerity and Unite is encouraging women to register to vote in the election, so we can elect a government that recognises women are the back bone of the economic recovery.”