Public sector reform and women's work in Poland: working for juice, coffee and cheap cosmetics
The debate on the transformation of work in east central Europe has concentrated on the restructuring of employment in manufacturing to the detriment of any discussion of the transformation of work in the service and public sectors, where the majority of women are employed. Moreover, while it is frequently recognized that women have been hit hard by job loss and unemployment, less attention has been paid the changing experiences of women in work. This article looks at the profound impact of market-driven reforms in the Polish health and education sectors implemented in the late 1990s, and considers their implications for women and their work. It reports on interviews with a cross-section of women workers in schools and hospitals and with trade union leaders at both the national and branch level. The impacts of the reforms and the experiences of women workers are discussed through the themes of changing employment levels, the restructuring of working conditions, job security, wages, training, and the double burden of balancing domestic and work lives. The general findings are that although the impact has been highly uneven between workplaces and regions, in general women have experienced an intensification of work and deteriorating working conditions. Their personal lives are not only more stressful due to the pressure at work, but also the double burden of paid and domestic work has increased due to the marketization of public provision. In both sectors, the response to reform has been widespread and militant industrial action, which has gained considerable political attention. We therefore also focus on how women have contested change, both passively and actively, through trade unionism and other political practice.