Equal pay for equal work is the concept of labor rights by the help of which women and men are granted equal pay for the same type of job in the workplace.
Women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men globally. As a matter of consequence, there’s a huge income inequality between men and women.
Furthermore, many women are retiring into poverty. Unfortunately, this gender pay gap and inequality in average wages persists in all countries across the world.
The main reason for this is that women’s work is undervalued, even if the work itself requires equal or more efforts and skills. Notably, for mothers, immigrant women and women of color, the gender pay gap widens. Why don’t women get equal pay for equal work?
The concept of equal pay for equal work
What does equal pay for equal work mean? In general, this addresses situations in which men and women do the same work and indicates that men and women should receive equal pay when doing the same job. Essentially, the same kind of work involves about the same levels of responsibility, skills, efforts and working conditions.
Equal pay for equal work is most commonly used in the context of gender discrimination when speaking about gender pay gap. Some developed countries have moved a step further in comparison to other countries in addressing the issue.
It was revolutionary in the US when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which made it illegal to pay men and women working in the same place different salaries for similar activities.
For a long period, women were paid less than their male counterparts for the same work. And the main reason for this lies in common gender stereotypes.
This concept arose during the first-wave feminism, with its early efforts for equal pay for equal work. Following the Second World War, the legislatures of some developed countries started to adopt the principle of equal pay for equal work.
To bring an example of this process in the UK, let’s remember the introduction of the Equal Pay Act 1970, following the Treaty of Rome and the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968.
The statement on equal pay is the 1951 Equal Remuneration Convention (a United Nations body). According to the Convention,
Each Member shall, by means appropriate to the methods in operation for determining rates of remuneration, promote and, in so far as is consistent with such methods, ensure the application to all workers of the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value.
Equal pay for equal work is discussed in Article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This topic is also covered in Article 4 of the European Social Charter and Article 15 of African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
What stands behind the gender pay gap?
It is noteworthy that the social and cultural standards and norms that determine men’s roles as decision-makers and women’s roles as carers, play a critical role in terms of how that work is valued and rewarded.
Furthermore, in some workplaces where women have equal or even better qualifications than men, their abilities are not valued the same as men’s, which results in slower career progression.
If we want to ensure “equal pay for equal work”, we need to address the fact that a job in the male-dominated sector may be of the similar value as a job in the female-dominated sector.
Yet, the job in the female-dominated sector will be less paid. In short, the way we value and see various types of jobs has to change. This has been recognized even in 1951 by the International Labor Organization Convention 100.
Even though women in male-dominated sectors generally earn more than those in female-dominated industries, the gender pay gap persists in all spheres. As it is estimated, female managers in the financial services sector in the United Kingdom, earn up to 39.5 percent less than their male colleagues.
As a 2016 study of the International Labor Organization shows, in high and upper-middle income countries, the female workforce is mainly concentrated in nursing, health care, teaching, office and administrative work and some other industries.
Because of the high numbers of women, these sectors tend to be undervalued and underpaid. The majority of the women around the world who work in the informal economy, lack safe working conditions, health care, decent wages, maternity protection or paid leave.
It is important to note that racial and other types of discrimination play a significant role in widening the gender pay gap as well. As a study shows, women of color earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by black men and about 68 cents for every dollar earned by white women.
What are the impacts of wage gap?
The permanent failure in addressing inequality and discrimination in the labor market adds to the already high number of working poor women. As it was proved the number of elderly women living in poverty is increasing around the world because of her pension’s gap during her retirement.
Today approximately 40 percent of women do not contribute to social protection measures, such as maternity protection schemes, pension, accident insurance and more.
These and many other factors endanger the fulfillment of the sustainable development that calls to end poverty and hunger, achieve gender equality and promote health for all at all ages.
As some reports show, the wages of women comprise only 79% of what a man earns, which means that for each $5 a man makes, a woman earns less than $4. Furthermore, for women of color, the pay gap is even more abrupt. On average, African American women are paid only 60 cents on the dollar compared to white men, whereas Latinas are paid only 55 cents.
As women get older, the gender pay gap only worsens as women over 35 earn only 76% of what their male counterparts earn at their age, no matter how educated a woman is. Moreover, women with a graduate degree earn $5,000 less than men with bachelor’s degree.
What actions are needed to overcome the gender pay gap and achieve equal pay for equal work?
One of the most effective methods to close gender pay gap is through minimum living wages that will benefit all low paid workers. Because women are overrepresented in low paid workplaces, this would benefit them more dramatically.
For instance, recently Germany introduced a national minimum wage in order to decrease gender wage gap.
This needs to be supported by the universal social protection that implies paid maternity leave, income security to the underemployed, child care, adequate pensions in retirement and other social and healthcare support.
Laws and regulations in the US
According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 of the US, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of color, race, religion, national origin, or sex. This law demands that employers reasonably accommodate employees’ religious practices unless it would impose a hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is the law that makes it illegal to discriminate against a woman because of childbirth, pregnancy or a medical condition related to that.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) is the popular law that makes it illegal to pay different salaries to men and women if they perform equal skills and abilities in the same workplace. The next law, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), protects people from discrimination because of age.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, is the law that makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in state and local governments as well as in the private sector.
According to this law, employers must reasonably accommodate the physical or mental limitations of the qualified employee with a disability, unless that would impose a hardship on the operation of the business.
For nearly a decade, Iceland has been rated the most gender-equal country in the world. It was the first country to directly elect a female president. Not to mention that about half its MPs and company directors are women.
As Fríða Rós Valdimarsdóttir, now the chair of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, once noted she was surprised to learn that male colleague in other departments, with far fewer responsibilities than her, were being paid a great deal more.
For decades it has been illegal for jobs that are worth the same, to pay women and men differently because of gender. However, it still and despite an equal pay act that goes back to 1961, Icelandic women still earn, approximately 14% to 20% less than men.
Many campaign groups backed a plan that made Iceland the first country in the world to legally enforce equal pay. The country showed that it is world’s best place to be a female being the world’s most gender-equal country. Don’t you think that other countries should follow the example?
In Iceland, any public or private body that will employ more than 25 people that haven’t been certified as paying equal wages for work of equal value will face daily fines. The standards that Iceland adopted are designed to eliminate factors that are irrelevant by law, such as gender inequality or discrimination by race and disability.
Indeed, legislation can impact attitudes and behavior and the Icelandic model could also be adopted by other countries that are seeking to end injustice concerning women.
Over 120 years have passed after the issue of equal pay for equal work was first raised. Still, unequal pay remains a critical reason for lower wages of women and their poverty in old age.
In the 21st century, women can still expect to be paid less than men. Even though the law has made a big difference and the wage gap has declined, it still remains very difficult for women to obtain equal pay. So, it’s high time to realize the deeply rooted issues of inequality in the workplace and make some huge steps forward.
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