Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Growing pay gap

The disparity in pay between men and women doing work of equal value is getting wider.

Jane Hodges, Director of the Gender Equality and Diversity Branch, International Labour Organisation (ILO), whose office is based in Geneva, explained during an interview with The Grenada Advocate, that across the world the average pay difference is approximately 17 per cent, such that for every $100 earned by men, women earn $83 for the same or similar work or work of equal value, simply because of their gender.

Jane Hodges, Director of the Gender Equality and
Diversity Branch, International Labour Organisation.
“It is not because she has lesser qualifications or lesser experience, but just because of sex discrimination,” the Gender Equality and Diversity Branch Director lamented.

Making reference to ILO’s Convention No. 100 concerning Equal Remuneration, the gender equality expert noted that cases of unequal pay usually relate to women, but she is suggesting that more individuals, women and men here in the Caribbean and elsewhere, who feel that they are being underpaid just because of their gender, should carry their case to the relevant authorities.

“The laws in this region for example are quite good on equal pay. They are not perfect, but you’ve got constitutional rights to equality between the sexes. Some of the labour codes are also quite new; for example, in Barbados the 2013 statute will send some strong equal pay messages, but the question remains why aren’t people bringing cases?” she said.

Hodges, who is also an attorney-at-law, is suggesting that the region needs one or two big cases where the facts show an employer is guilty of underpaying workers doing the same or similar jobs, or jobs of equal value. She explained that it could help to highlight the fact that Caribbean countries are not immune to the challenges of gender inequality in the workplace and encourage the powers-that-be to address it.

“Making an employer pay the backpay due plus punitive damages can send an incredibly strong message, not just to that individual employer who has probably been making a profit on the back of those women, but it would send a good public message, and that is what these judges need to know,” she said.

Hodges made the point as she noted that the injustice of unequal pay continues to exist because persons are not bringing attention to it through the proper channels.

Among the reasons she has identified for the volume of such cases being low, is the lack of the right policy framework or weak legislation in some countries. She also pointed out that where legislation does exist, many persons are not aware of it.

Moreover, the ILO official stated that employees are also often scared of retaliation, but she is assuring Caribbean workers that almost all member states have specific equal pay legislation or provisions in their labour acts prohibiting discrimination against complainants if they choose to exercise their rights.

With that in mind, the Director spoke of the importance of signing and ratifying Convention No. 100.

She explained that it is a good international statement of a country’s commitment to gender equality and, she added, it carries political weight and can be used for moral pressure by workers and workers’ organisations.

While noting that the countries of the Caribbean have signed and ratified the Convention, she said it is equally important that governments take steps to enforce it. One key step to achieving this is to raise awareness about the provisions, she added. (JRT)

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