Christine Kwapnoski had every right to feel somewhat miffed about public assurances from senior management at Wal-Mart with respect to the fairness of its labor practices.
When working as a dock supervisor for Sam’s Club, a Wal-Mart subsidiary, Ms. Kwapnoski discovered that she was earning no more than one of the men under her supervision. Later, according to a New York Times report in 2006, she was promoted without a raise, even though accompanying pay raises were offered to men who also received promotions.
Her case highlights an important point – that despite legislation which disallows gender based discrimination in remuneration practices, women in the US (and no doubt in other parts of the world) can still find themselves receiving less pay than their male counterparts even when performing work of a similar nature.
Equal pay mini series
This discussion is the tenth discussion in my (albeit interrupted) series of discussions about worker rights and responsibilities in the modern workplace.
Today, I would like to turn attention toward the issue of gender based discrimination in terms of remuneration practices, and the fundamental right of both women to receive substantially similar levels of remuneration to those which are awarded to men for the performance of work which is similar in nature.
I would like to examine this topic in some depth and thus have decided to split this topic into a three part mini-series. Today’s discussion will focus on why the concept of equal work for equal pay is so important. Discussions about evidence relating to gender based pay discrepancies (and the causes of such discrepancies), as well as what should be done in order to address such discrepancies will follow over the next two weeks.
Defining the objective
I feel that it is very important to clearly define what our goal should be in this context.
I do not believe that our goal should be equality of the full time average weekly earnings for women to equal that of men. Instead, the goal should be that women and men who perform work of a similar nature, should be entitled to receive similar levels of remuneration.
Men and women make different choices and exhibit different tendencies with respect to a wide range of employment related characteristics, such as education levels, field of study and employment, family related decisions and levels of managerial responsibility, just to name a few. Because of these differences, it would not be reasonable to expect the average income of full time working men and women to be equal, nor should that be our goal.
But all other things being equal, women who perform work of a similar nature to that of their male counterparts have every right to expect to receive similar levels of remuneration.
Same qualifications, same performance, same responsibility – same pay.
That should be our goal.
Why it matters
There are several reasons why the receipt of equal pay for equal work is important, but the first and most obvious reason relates to the basic principle of natural justice.
• A fundamental human right.
The right of women to receive equal pay for the performance of work of a substantially similar nature (and vice versa for men) represents a fundamental human right which is not only enshrined as such in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (article 23(2)), but is also given recognition as a legal right in the United States and no doubt across the vast majority of the civilized world.
It is a right which is beyond any form of reasonable dispute.
• Practical implications for working women.
Then there are the practical implications for working women, particularly for those who are not married or who are the dominant income earners within their families.
Gender based discrimination with respect to remuneration practices represents an unfair hindrance on working women and their families to afford a comfortable life style, attain financial security and plan for a comfortable retirement.
Also, in the case of married women, such discrimination may also have an adverse impact upon their career development where economic circumstances dictate that the lower income earner within the marriage partnership assume the bulk of the responsibility with respect to domestic or family related matters.
• Implications for other family members.
In addition, the implications extend beyond working women themselves and have an effect upon other family members.
Gender based discrimination in remuneration practices has an unfair impact upon the well being of children in the cases either of single motherhood or where the mother is the pre-dominant income earner. And some fathers, too, may wish to sacrifice work hours in order to spend additional time with children, but may feel prevented from doing so for financial reasons in cases where their wives are not able to earn the similar amounts of income for each hour worked.
• Economic implications.
As noted above, gender based discrimination in remuneration practices represents a hindrance to the career development of working women.
Not only is this unfair for women, it is also detrimental from the perspective of the broader economy, through its impact upon both the size and skill of the available workforce.
The right to receive similar remuneration for the performance of work of a similar nature is a fundamental right to which all women and men should be entitled.