Equal Pay  and political correctness

Robert Henderson

Calls for equal pay for women are often not calls for equal pay  for equal work.  Rather,  they are demands for  equal pay with men regardless of  whether the jobs women do are  the same,  the experience levels are the same, the natural ability is the same and the diligence and conscientiousness is the same.

The legal definition of equal work  under the Equality Act 2010  does not simply say there should be  equal pay if the woman is doing  a job identical with that of a man at the same employer. Instead it includes different types of work being judged as being   work of  equal value.  Here is the relevant section of the Act:

65Equal work

(1)For the purposes of this Chapter, A’s work is equal to that of B if it is—

(a)like B’s work,

(b)rated as equivalent to B’s work, or

(c)of equal value to B’s work.

(2)A’s work is like B’s work if—

(a)A’s work and B’s work are the same or broadly similar, and

(b)such differences as there are between their work are not of practical importance in relation to the terms of their work.

(3)So on a comparison of one person’s work with another’s for the purposes of subsection (2), it is necessary to have regard to—

(a)the frequency with which differences between their work occur in practice, and

(b)the nature and extent of the differences.

(4)A’s work is rated as equivalent to B’s work if a job evaluation study—

(a)gives an equal value to A’s job and B’s job in terms of the demands made on a worker, or

(b)would give an equal value to A’s job and B’s job in those terms were the evaluation not made on a sex-specific system.

Such evaluation introduces a considerable degree of subjectivity and can result in what most people would not think were  jobs of equal value  or difficulty being judged as of equal value or difficulty,  for example, a clerical assistant and a warehouse operative or   an occupational health nurse  and a production supervisor have been  judged to be equal  of equal status and value.  ( I remember some  years ago a senior person, a woman, within the Equalities body policing the system at the time giving an interview on the BBC in which she said that an example of jobs of equivalent value were a school carpenter and a school dinner lady, the  former  being a job requiring a long apprenticeship and the latter a few days experience at most. )

Is there really a pay gap between men and women?

The official UK figure for the average differential between full time male and female pay  is 9% according to the latest official figures. That is not surprising when the propensity for women to take time out from paid employment to have children, their greater role on average in caring for their children and their smaller representation in more senior jobs (a c consequence of less experience due to   child bearing and childcare) is taken into account.  To those factors can be added the dubious equivalence of work mentioned above. It is  conceivable that the pay differential is not a differential of remuneration for the same work but a differential based on ability and experience.

Types of working which make equal pay impossible

There are large sections of the working population in countries such as the UK  who are remunerated in ways which makes equal pay impossible. These are:

Self-employment,   which is a large and growing  part of the working age population in the UK.  The latest official figures are  4.8 million.

Piece work – A sizeable proportion of the population receive all or part of their income from piece work.

Commission –  A sizeable proportion of the population receive all or part of their income from commission.

Bonuses for meeting targets. These are found in both private enterprise employers and public service employers.

Loyalty and experience pay rises. Much of public sector employment includes  graduated increases based on the number of  years served. These serve as rewards for experience and loyalty. Some private businesses operate the same type of schemes.  Women on average will be less likely than men to get such increases  because  they will probably have some sort of break in their careers if they have children. But that does not mean women are being discriminated against. Rather, it is simply that they are not meeting the qualifying criteria.

These types of remuneration cover many  millions of people in the UK.  Is anyone seriously going to suggest making them illegal?

Differential Ability

But even where the  form of remuneration makes equal pay in principle possible,  there may be good reason not to give equal pay even to people employed to do the same job. These reasons are:

Not all workers are equally able .

Not all workers are  equally diligent.

Competence will grow with experience.

The value of a person may rest on their reputation. This is particularly true of people in show-business or modelling. It would plainly be absurd to, for example,  expect that actors and actresses  should  be paid the same   simply because   they are working on the same film.  A film is a commercial enterprise and the employment of a particular actor of  actresses can make a considerable difference to its commercial success. A similar argument applies to models.

The selection of someone to do a job

In the end the qualities  required do a job and their assessment of an applicant have to be  a matter of judgement by the employer who will be trying to satisfy themselves on these points:

Does the person have the any necessary  formal  qualifications for the job?

Is the person overqualified for the job?

Does the person have the right experience?

Does the person have good references from previous employers?

Does  the person seem to be someone who  gets along with people generally?

Does the employer feel they can get on with the person?

Does the  person seem to have initiative?

The consideration of these questions give rational grounds for differential pay before an applicant has even begun work.

Men and women are not interchangeable in the workplace

Clearly there are significant numbers of  jobs which women cannot do at all or as well as men on average  for reasons of bodily strength.  strength. It is true that the numbers of such jobs are considerably fewer  than they were 50 years ago, but there are still plenty of them, for example in construction, where the average woman would struggle to match the average man. To that type of job can be added work  such as police officers which require people  who can deal physically with violent offenders.

Then there are jobs which in principle  men or women could both do with equally facility  but which are favoured by one sex or another. Primary school teachers tend to  be  women; engineers tend to be men.

On the grounds of biology alone  the idea that men and women would naturally have  the same desire on average to gravitate in the same numbers  to the  sorts of jobs is  dubious. Most nurses are women and  for some years  most of those training to be doctors in the UK have been women.

To start from the most obvious difference, women have babies. Amongst mammals  it is overwhelmingly the female who  takes the main burden of rearing  the young.  It would be very odd indeed if homo sapiens was radically different in terms of a basic biological driver such as the maternal instinct.

Women  with children tend to work in jobs which fit around childcare. Many of those jobs are low skilled and even when skilled   are often  part-time. Either from choice or necessity women take these jobs  to attend to the care of their children.  As most women want children and have children this inevitably means that the average pay for women is going to be lower than that of  men.

Legislation banning discriminatory pay  in the UK has been around for since 1970 when the Equal Pay Act was passed.   Since that time there has been a huge amount of public urging  by politicians, the media and academia to get women to aspire to  traditionally male work. The idea of the working mother is no longer looked down upon,  at least in public discussion. More and more women have gone on to higher education until they now substantially outnumber men.  In addition the shape of the UK economy has changed considerably with manual jobs much reduced. All of these things would seem to bolster the idea of male and female pay equality.  Yet women still show a marked preference for traditional women’s jobs, part time working and taking career breaks to have children.

None of this means that no women will want to do jobs which are considered traditionally male jobs or that no men will want to do jobs considered traditionally female jobs. But it does mean that most women and most men will be drawn to jobs traditionally occupied by   women not because there are societal barriers against it but  as a result of biologically driven circumstances and motivations.   Once that is accepted the fact that on average  the pay of women is significantly less than that of men will  not mean that employers are often wilfully underpaying women but instead are simply reflecting  female choices.

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