Public Service Workers

Public service workers are highly unionized and typically considered more secure (Fanelli 2016, 2018; Thomas and Tufts 2016). Yet, the pandemic has exposed fault lines in the organization of public/broader public sector work that have significant public policy implications. Previous research has estimated that average Canadians receive an amount equal to $17,000 from public services (Shillington and Mackenzie, 2009). For some two-thirds of the Canadian population, the social wage – public services or benefits that supplement market income – made up more than half of household income. On average, the social wage was valued at over $20,000, or about one-fifth of actual household consumption (Statistics Canada, 2019). Public services also reduce broader inequalities, particularly in times of economic difficultly or labour market uncertainty, and ensure that ordinary people can have a say in the quality and cost of those services.

This sightline examines how public sector work (broadly defined) and public services have been impacted by COVID-19. It examines how conditions of employment have been restructured, including demands for concessions; new workplace arrangements; evening, overnight and weekend work; rotating and split shifts; and variable schedules. An additional focus will be the uneven distribution of layoffs across the broader public sector, with an emphasis on the differentiated racialized and gendered impacts. It also considers to what extent a range of social program expenditures, like healthcare, education and social assistance, have been impacted; how these changes have differentially impacted diverse communities; and what new forms of government expenditure restraint and/or revenue generation may look like in the ‘aftermath’ of the coronavirus pandemic. Finally, it considers new forms of resistance, not only from unionized and non-unionized workers, but also from community-based groups and other stakeholders.

Featured Resource

Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam, The Washington Post: Pay cuts are becoming a defining feature of the coronavirus recession. (July 1, 2020).

At least 4 million private-sector workers have had their pay cut during the pandemic, according to data provided to The Washington Post by economists who worked on a labor market analysis for the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute.

Workers are twice as likely to get a pay cut now than they were during the Great Recession, according to the group’s analysis of data from the payroll processor ADP. Salary cuts are spreading most rapidly in white-collar industries, which suggests a deep recession and slow recovery since white-collar workers are usually the last to feel financial pain.