Women labour leaders say there's a “dark side” to Statistics Canada figures suggesting that for the first time in history there are more women than men in Canada’s workforce.

A recently issued labour force survey found that about 7.1 million women were in paid employment during the first half of 2009, compared to 6.9 million men.

Women outnumbered men in both the “under 25 years” and the “25 years and over” demographics.

The figures are not a reflection of gains in female-dominated industries, but of layoffs and cutbacks in male-dominated industries, such as the beleaguered manufacturing and natural resources sectors, said labour leaders in the auto and nursing sector.

“Nobody should break out the champagne here,” said Laurell Ritchie, a national representative with the Canadian Auto Workers’ union. “There is a dark side to this story.”

In the past year, employment among women has risen by 0.6 per cent, while men’s employment has fallen by 1.7 per cent in the same period, the report indicates.

“Men are losing jobs, they’re unemployed, they're taking early retirement, when that may not have been their original plan, or moving into self-employment,” Ritchie said.

“With women, there has been some increase in some areas of the service sector, like health care, and women predominate in those jobs.”

Ritchie said she was reviewing the report and noticed something she had never seen before — that there were more women in paid employment than men.

She called Statistics Canada and got the numbers confirmed.

But the study’s figures do not include Canadians who are self-employed or unemployed who are actively seeking jobs.

Women are taking part-time and any work they can get, to put food on the table for their families, said Lesley Bell, a registered nurse and CEO of the Ontario Nurses’ Association.

“Women are only paid 71 cents on the dollar in relation to men so they’re cheaper costs,” Bell, whose association is 98 per cent women, said. “Women are getting more work, but at a much lower rate usually.”