Women’s month: Gender pay gaps (part 1)

Date: 11 Aug 2020

August is Women’s month in South Africa, with 9th August specifically, commemorating the more than 20 000 women who, in 1956, marched in peaceful protest, to the Union buildings in Pretoria to petition against the use of an internal pass. The purpose of which was to demarcate the lines in support of segregating the population because of race. For thirty minutes, the thousands of women stood in silence after leaving 14 000 petitions on the door of the then President Strijdom and then broke into song, whose words now translate to “You strike a woman, you strike a rock”.

Since the end of apartheid where the call for equality was heeded, there remains significant disparities within certain sections of the labour market. The most surreptitious of these inequalities being that of the between remuneration for men vs women. Studies have shown that the difference in pay between the genders has all but stagnated since the call for equal pay for work of equal value, was legislated in the Employment Equity Act. Energies to date have ultimately been focused on closing racial representation gaps, using tools such as target and goal prescription by the government (in light with their fixation on utilizing “carrot and stick” approach)  rather than encouraging genuine efforts to provide training and development and expedited succession plans for previously disadvantages races as well as genders.

Studies in South Africa reflect that the number of female-lead homes, is higher than the number of male-headed homes, with the number of dependents on these female-lead homes, exceeding those of dependents in male-lead homes. What this means, is that women in the country are laden with a much larger financial burden than men and are expected to make their money extend significantly further. In this day and age, in a country with one of the most processive constitutions in terms of equality, employers still appear to view women in the workplace are not being of equal value to men as evidenced by a documented 23 – 35% lag between remuneration for men and women, albeit mostly within the middle and upper occupational levels.

Challenges to closing the wage gap

Globally, measures have had to be put in place as a means of decreasing the wage gap. In South Africa, such means are not as effective. Reasons for this being:

  1. Structures such as collective bargaining and unionized workforces and the implementation of a National Minimum wage, have contributed to the minimization of the wage gap at the lower occupational levels, but this is yet to translate into best practices across all sectors, especially those where collective bargaining is not applicable.
  2. Current collective bargaining structures are under threat of collapse in certain sectors like metal and engineering, due mostly to the country-wide recession, which was already underway into 2019, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, now made significantly worse as a result thereof.
  3. Lack of transparency regarding pay gaps, despite the Employment Equity Act, which also does not apply to all businesses, just designated ones. Meaning those which are not designated, are not required to report in any way on pay gaps and who are also not help by the same bounds of legislation.
  4. Informal and small businesses who are able to remain under the radar and thus less affected by legislation which enforces equal pay for work of equal value.
  5. Conflicting legislative requirements which is most certainly used to hide behind in business (ie the right to privacy within the South African Constitution and other legislation, over-powers the demands of the Employment Equity Act, which calls for discloser of salaries across all occupational levels and genders.)
  6. Sanctions for non-compliance remains to be seen as a substantial deterrent for designated employers who have to date mostly been able have the capacity to budget for fines which have been issued and generally evade the effects of the threatened “Carrot and stick” approach related to pay gaps, targets and goals.