Last updated on Jul 7th, 2020 at 04:12 pm

Across the globe, men, on average, are paid more than women in most industries and business sectors…

And it comes as no surprise that South Africa, which is rife with inequality, is also guilty of not paying men and women equally. Unfortunately, while paying less based on sex is illegal, many companies don’t play by the rules and furthermore the law doesn’t do enough to protect women against this practice.

What does the pay gap currently look like?

In 2017, the World Economic Forum compiled a report based on gender-based pay disparity in 144 countries around the world. It focused specifically on four major sectors: health‚ economics‚ politics and education.

Of course, it goes without saying that this pay gap is incredibly problematic for many reasons; what’s more, as the report also stipulates, “gender parity is fundamental to whether and how economies and societies thrive”.

Why do companies or employers pay women less than men?

Usually, the reasons are influenced by patriarchal prejudice – meaning they see the work of men more valuable than that of women-; and ingrained sexism in relation to a woman’s “role” in society. The thinking is that once women have children, their priorities shift to raising a family, pursuing a career takes a back seat.

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

“Discrimination against women, where they are underpaid despite being equally qualified to men” also contributes to income disparity, associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand’s school of economics and business sciences, Uma Kollamparambil, told Africa Check.

An intersectional lens needs to be applied in order to fully unpack the pay gap in South Africa. This means that while there is general discrimination against women in our country, some are more discriminated against based on race.

Stats SA estimated that men earned a median income of R3,500 per month while women earned R2,700 per month in 2015. The “median income” is the value where half of people’s income falls above it and the other half falls below.

But breaking it down even further, it is revealed that black and coloured women earn the exact or less than the median (R2500 and R2700, respectively) whereas Indian and white women earn more, (R6000 and R10000, respectively).

What does South African law say?

As it stands, South African employment law – particularly the Employment Equity Act– maintains that no employee can be discriminated against based on race, gender, age, language and sexual orientation. The principle of Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value has also been adopted in our labour laws to eliminate workplace discrimination.

In terms of determining equal work, it states that the work performed by an employee:

  • Is the same as the work of another employee of the same employer, if their work is identical or interchangeable
  • Is substantially the same as the work of another employee, if the work performed by the employees is sufficiently similar that they can reasonably be considered to be performing the same job, even if their work is not identical or interchangeable;
  • Is of the same value as the work of another employee in a different job.

Factors that could influence any differentiation in pay include:

  • Seniority or length of service;
  • Qualifications, ability, competence or potential above the minimum acceptable levels;
  • Performance, quantity or quality of work;
  • Demotion due to restructuring or another legitimate reason;
  • Temporary employment to gain experience and training;
  • Shortage of relevant skill;
  • Market related value for the job;
  • Any other factor that is not unfairly discriminatory.

But as the statistics show, there is still a massive gender pay gap, which can only mean that companies still discriminate and perpetuate inequality. 

So, what’s the solution? 

LAW FOR ALL’s Managing Director, Adv. Jackie Nagtegaal suggests that stricter laws need to be implemented that requires companies to offer equal pay from the get-go.

It should not be left up to employees to identify or become aware of pay disparity within their workplaces and then have to take a case to the CCMA, Labour Court, the Equality Court or Ombudsman; pay equality should be a given. “There is also an international call for employers to be more transparent about their operations so that equality is a fundamental and not an exception in the workplace,” says Nagtegaal.

Iceland passed  a pay parity law

In 2017, Iceland took one of the most progressive stances against pay inequality by passing a law that demands pay parity. The 2017 law doesn’t just expose a company that violates the principle to lawsuits. It requires all companies with 25 or more employees to set a value for each task a worker in a certain position is expected to perform, then fix salaries to the sum of those values.

Larger companies have a year to certify their compliance, obtained from authorised assessors, to the country’s government Centre for Gender Equality. The smallest ones have until the end of 2021. Recertification is due every three years, the law stipulates. All of this is assessed and regulated by an independent board so as to ensure the process is objective and fair. If the companies do not comply, they will face fines.

“While the law can certainly help right many wrongs, we also have to address how society perceives men and women, generally. Gender stereotypes and patriarchal tendencies are a big part of the problem as well. Additionally, perhaps South African should take cues from Iceland and create an independent regulatory body that assesses and certifies companies,” adds Nagtegaal.

Needless to say, the issue of pay disparity is one that has far-reaching consequences and needs to be addressed thoroughly to avoid the gap from growing to the point of no return.