#Lab17: Better training key to protecting jobs for women

Women stand to lose more work than men, in an already precarious jobs market

By 2020, for every one job that women gain through the rise of automation, they stand to lose five. For men, the equivalent is one job gained for every three jobs lost.

The introduction to the Future of Work for Women session, hosted by Fabian Women at the Labour Party conference, was bleak. AI, robotics, 3D printing, the introduction of home factories… These were all factors cited as impacting on jobs. Beyond 2020, the picture was even worse.

The disruption has already impacted employment standards, explained the event chair, Rehana Ameer, councillor for Vintry ward, City of London Corporation.

“Most of the work we see now is low paid, seasonal and with few rights at work. This is the dark side of gig economy,” she said.

This is borne out in the data. As Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary of Unite the Union, reminded us, of the 1.4m people on zero hour contracts, a disproportionate number are female, and that at the current rate of progress it will take 62 years for the gender pay gap to close.

Not just a woman’s issue

“We must acknowledge that collective bargaining for women benefits men also,” added Cartmail, with reference to how it can also lead to better pay for men, not to mention the benefits of salary increases on the family unit.

Laura Pidcock MP for North West Durham reflected how the challenges of insecure and low-paid employment are exasperated by workplaces that are inflexible to family demands, such as taking time off for antenatal appointments or to care for family members, which more often than not are the responsibility of the woman.

She also suggested that women’s role in the home should be taken into account when considering overall workload.

“Women are still doing more in the household than men. We need to constantly chip away at gender-segregated work in the house,” she said.

But the session wasn’t just about the challenges – which the majority of the delegates were more than familiar with. The conversation was also about solutions. And for those, Sara Hyde, vice chair of Fabian Women was on hand.

“We need to think about career paths and employment journeys, not just jobs. Precarious jobs [zero hour contracts, low pay] should be a gateway to something better, not something that people get stuck in. We need decent policies that encourage lifelong learning and workplace training,” she said, adding how this means revising the Industrial Strategy so that it pays more attention to women. There is currently little mention of the role of women in the strategy, particularly those from BAME and working class communities.

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