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Hungry and cash-strapped, women public sector workers hit hard: Survey

Public sector workers relied on CERB, took on debt, ate into savings to survive the year

Mar 09, 2021

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Public sector workers—the majority of whom are women—are struggling to survive the pandemic and economic crisis, according to a new survey conducted by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

“Following International Women’s Day, we want to highlight that most workers we’ve called ‘heroes’ throughout this pandemic are women,” says Susan Slade, vice-president of AUPE and chair of the union’s Women’s Committee. “They’re struggling. They need this government to stop attacking them.”

The pandemic has caused about a third of AUPE members to lose income over the past year, often due to employers cutting hours or laying workers off. Around the same amount reported that employers cut either their job, or their spouse’s job. Even more worrisome was that nearly half of workers reported buying less food because of financial constraints resulting from the pandemic.

“Over the past year, women workers have struggled the most,” Slade says. “Despite the UCP’s claims that public sector workers are overpaid, we know that women who work in healthcare, education, and other public services are clearly not getting paid the money they need to meet their needs.”

The survey, completed by a representative sample of AUPE’s over 90,000 members, shows workers’ personal finances plummeted during COVID. Nearly 75 per cent of AUPE members are women.

“Beyond doing their difficult jobs during a global crisis,” says Slade, “these devoted public sector workers are also keeping Alberta afloat in other ways, including the nearly 40 per cent of members who started supporting a new family member or friend over the past year, because many Albertans lost jobs.” 

In many cases, the only support available to workers facing hardship were federal programs such as CERB, which just over 10 per cent of members reported using. Workers also wrote that they were using savings to survive, and taking on new debt, mostly through credit cards.

Nearly six per cent of respondents said they had been diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past year, nearly double the rate of infection for Albertans overall.  “These women are on the front lines against this pandemic,” Slade says. “They wake up, every morning, and face danger so that they can provide the public with essential services. That risk takes a toll.”

Members diagnosed with COVID-19 lost income and were pressured by employers to deplete vacation days while sick with the virus. Others believe that they caught the virus at work, but are unable to prove it because the contact tracing system collapsed during the peak of the second wave.

“This survey dramatically reveals a public sector in crisis,” she says. “Workers are struggling to meet their basic needs. By scapegoating them, this government is twisting the knife in their backs. Alberta’s economic recovery needs to prioritize women workers, or it won’t be a recovery at all.”

AUPE will continue to publish results of this survey in the coming days. 


Susan Slade is available for comment. Contact Jon Milton, Communications Officer, at

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