Many of my students aren’t even aware that there is an election looming in Ontario. That’s hardly surprising given the low voter turnout generally in the 18-25 age bracket. But if they were paying attention, they likely would have noticed that the Conservative Party is promising to cut the public sector by some 100,000 jobs in two years.
As this Globe and Mail editorial notes, when you crunch the numbers of which employees could be included in the pool of potential casualties, you are talking about a group of about 650,000 facing the ax. That means about 1 in 6 of these government employees entering the rolls of the unemployed in Ontario, drawing unemployment insurance and possibly welfare benefits. Terrible news for families and friends of these workers for sure. This is a key component of Tim Hudak’s, er, job creation plan for Ontario.
When you dig deeper into who these workers are, we can see, as noted in the Globe piece, that they are mostly employed in education (teachers and teachers aids), and health care and social
services. Therefore, the Conservative plan is to cut services to education, health care, and social services. Class sizes will increase, longer delays in getting health care are almost certain, and people waiting for social services will have to wait even longer for help.
These are all items that the wealthy Conservative supporter can acquire from the private sector, so they will be mostly unaffected by the cuts. Their kids can go to private schools, their favourite executive medical clinic with valet service (like Medcan) won’t be affected by the cuts, and they rarely require social services anyways. Why a lower or middle income voter would support a cut to these core public services to fund another huge corporate tax cut is beyond my limited comprehension. But I assume the Tories believe enough of them will to do so to win them power.
One of the factors that stands out when we look at public sector jobs in the areas being targeted by Tim Hudak for gutting is the gender composition of the workers involved. These are primarily female dominated jobs that pay a decent wage and have relatively good benefit plans.
For example, when I searched gender composition of Ontario public sector jobs in “health care and social assistance” in the Stats Can database, I find that 531,700 are female compared to only 87, 500 males workers. Many of these workers are nurses, who Hudak says he is not after, but even if we deduct nurses, health care remains a female dominated industry. In Educational services, there are more than twice the number of female employees (293,000 vs. 147,500).
You get the idea. A policy of cutting 100,000 jobs in education, health care, and social services is a policy to gut decent paying female jobs from the economy. The gender wage gap in health care and education is among the lowest of all jobs (that is, women and men earn pretty close to the same amounts in these jobs), and female jobs in the public sector pay substantially more than comparable jobs in the private sector.
The jobs Hudak wants to cut are those found a peculiar economic island where women actually do quite well. As Don Drummond noted in his report, public sector compensation tends to be slightly higher than in the private sector for non-executive jobs because the public sector compensation pie is more fairly distributed among the workforce. Lower level non-managerial workers receive a greater share of the pie than in the private sector, where a greater share goes to executives at the top and to shareholders in the form of dividends. This skewed distribution in the private sector helps explain growing income inequality in the private sector in Canada.
The Conservative’s plan is to attack the relatively better jobs women can obtain in the public sector, relative to their prospects in the private sector. The women Hudak is promising to fire from their public sector jobs are unlikely to get jobs in the private sector paying comparable wages. Indeed, the Conservatives claim is that although the will be adding 100,000 to the unemployment rolls, this will be offset by an unprecedented explosion in post-Free Trade manufacturing jobs. And guess who tends to fill manufacturing jobs in Canada? Hint: it isn’t women.
Issues for Discussion
Do you think that gender composition of the targeted jobs cuts in the Conservative platform should be a relevant debating point in this election?
Would it affect your opinion of the cuts knowing that the vast majority of workers losing their jobs will be women?
What justification might the Conservatives give if in fact they do end up terminating primarily women?