Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value

Here in South Africa we celebrate Women’s Day in August, in commemoration of the Women’s march on the Union Buildings in 1956 to protest against the pass laws. But did you know that International Women’s Day is observed on the 8th of March? The US, UK and Australia further celebrate the contributions made by women in history by declaring the entire month of March ‘Women’s History Month’. While it may not be officially recognised here, Women’s History Month is an opportunity to pause and reflect on the role of women in our society and in the workplace.

Wathint’ Abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo!

South African society, in all its cultural representations, was historically patriarchal. Women were often disempowered and even oppressed. But as the 1956 march in Pretoria demonstrated, and as the steps of the Union Buildings commemorate, women have always been able to inspire the nation with their courage and determination. Women such as Charlotte Maxeke, Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi, Raheema Moosa, Ruth First…to name but a very few…helped to change the course of history. Despite the efforts of these influential activists, women have suffered considerable discrimination in the workplace. Inequities persist to this day, with females holding a disproportionate percentage of low-paid and part-time jobs.

Former President Thabo Mbeki stated, “No government in South Africa could ever claim to represent the will of the people if it failed to address the central task of emancipation of women in all its elements, and that includes the government we are privileged to lead.” Today 42.6% of positions in Cabinet are held by women. Compare that to 1953, when Helen Suzman was elected Member of Parliament and was the sole female in the government of the day.

Look after your assets

Whether in government or in your organisation, women represent an asset, one that needs to be nurtured, developed and compensated fairly. Unfortunately, there are still earnings discrepancies between women and men doing the same or similar jobs. Our Constitution prohibits discrimination of any sort, and the Employment Equity Act ‘protects workers and job seekers from unfair discrimination, and also provides a framework for implementing affirmative action in the workplace’ (source), but until recently equal pay for work of equal value was not explicitly decreed in legislation. Possibly one of the most noteworthy inclusions in the Employment Equity Amendment Act 2014 was the introduction of the right to ‘equal pay for work of equal value’, which was added as a sub-clause to Section 6. The amendments, which came into effect on 1st August 2014, render it against the law to discriminate unfairly between employees doing the same work or work of equal value in terms of their remuneration and working conditions.

What this means in practice

Despite legislation, wage discrepancies still exist because the work women do is often undervalued and underpaid in relation to that of men. In some jobs that are traditionally and predominantly done by women, such as childcare, it may be difficult to find a male comparator who performs the same or similar work or work of equal value. But the concept ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ means that, even if a woman is employed in a traditionally female working environment, if her work has the same value as that of a man working in a male environment, then she and the man must be paid similar wages, regardless of differing job descriptions. A good example could be seen in the mining industry.  Because it is traditionally masculine, women entering the industry that have the same experience, qualification and doing the same job as their male counterparts are not paid equally.  This is exactly what the act is addressing and attempting to correct.

Celebrate differences

Empowering women in the workplace make economic sense. Janet Riccio, Executive Vice President of the Omnicom Group, says, “Women’s leadership is more than important in today’s world; it’s imperative. Whether it’s the public or private sector, organisations that are led by inclusive leadership teams make better decisions that deliver better results. The qualities that are required to lead in the 21st century include the ability to connect, collaborate, empathise, and communicate – all qualities that tend to be “female” in nature. Women in leadership roles position organisations in a way that makes them fit for the future.”

Women tend to have higher levels of emotional intelligence and empathy than most men and often promote delivery of soft benefits that may be overlooked in a purely commercial approach to business but which are essential to sustainability and human development, especially in Africa. Liz Hart, the Managing Director of Women in Energy commented, “It is important for women to play a bigger role in the workplace in Africa, where women play a disproportionately active role as breadwinners and caretakers of the future generations on the continent. If more women were represented in the continent’s energy sectors, which are responsible for providing electricity access to improve the quality and standard of living, then many more people would have access to quality education and healthcare.”

How does your organisation measure up?

How well do you comply with Section 6 of the Employment Equity Amendment Act? Let us help you conduct an assessment. Human Capital Solutions has a dashboard that can monitor compliance with the Act and inform management decisions and solutions in terms of equal pay for work of equal value.

For more information please contact:

Janine van der Merwe

083 232 8488


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