Employee rights and responsibilities part 10: Same work, same pay

Employee rights & responsibilities 6 Comments

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.

 
Summary
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.

6 Responses to “Employee rights and responsibilities part 10: Same work, same pay”

  1. Brad Shorr Says:
    February 26th, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Hi Andrew, Could you clarify -

    “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.”

    I don’t understand the distinction between earnings and remuneration. Your post is very interesting, but before I comment, I want to make sure I understand more clearly. Thanks!

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Exciting New Resource for Chicago Entrepreneurs

  2. Andrew Says:
    February 27th, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Sorry Brad,

    I guess I was being somewhat lacksidasical in my use of terminology here, and I can see where there is potential for confusion.

    Basically, for the purposes of this post, I have used both terms to refer to salary or wages which one earns as an employee.

    I realize that the term ‘earnings’ can also be used to refer to profit from some form of business activity. But in this post, I am referring to the salary and wages of an employee when using both of the terms which you mention.

    Andrews last blog post..Employee rights and responsibilities part 10: Same work, same pay

  3. Brad Shorr Says:
    February 27th, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Hi Andrew, Maybe it’s worthwhile to expand the meaning of “remuneration” to include benefits. Depending on a person’s family life, a lower salary in exchange for more vacation days or a more flexible work schedule would be an equitable exchange. In general, in the interest of fairness and to preserve peace within the firm, a policy such as you propose makes perfect sense. Again in general, women do move in and out of the work force more frequently, often due to family interests. When this occurs, I think it does affect the value of that employee, but you have to look at it on a case by case basis. To universally preemptively penalize women with a lower wage seems grossly unfair to me. Besides being unfair in principle, as a practical matter, the stereotype on which gender discrimination was based is long gone. These days we are seeing more men take on child rearing duties. Some parents are juggling two, three, or even four jobs to keep their heads above water.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Exciting New Resource for Chicago Entrepreneurs

  4. Andrew Says:
    February 27th, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Brad,

    I agree with your broader definition with respect to the concept of remuneration. The whole concept of remuneration can be somewhat more complicated than that of just straightforward salary and wages, and in looking at the question of gender based discrimination in remuneration practices, it is important to look at the whole range of benefits, monetary and otherwise, that employees receive as a result of their employment.

    Your point about the tendency for women to move in and out of the workforce raises an interesting point which I will talk about a little more in next week’s post. Differing tendencies relating to different career or family related choices do affect impact the earning power of the average woman relative to that of the average man. There was one study interesting study back in 2007 where the researchers attempted to quantify the affects of such choices in an effort to determine whether or not a gender based pay gap remains after the impact of these types of choices. They did find that a small gender based gap remains, but more on that next week.

    Andrews last blog post..Employee rights and responsibilities part 10: Same work, same pay

  5. Cath Lawson Says:
    March 1st, 2009 at 7:33 am

    Hi Andrew – It sucks that this still goes on. Folk who do the same type of job should be paid the same – regardless of gender, race, or anything else.

  6. drew Says:
    March 2nd, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Right on, Cath. Well said.

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