Women’s pay will suffer under NI plan
THE projected growth of the private sector under plans to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy will increase the gender pay gap in Londonderry and across the province, according to a Londonderry academic.
But the difference in pay between men and women here, which is less than in Great Britain, due partly to the greater availability of better paid public sector jobs for local women, is already rising as a result of the recession.
Goretti Horgan, a Lecturer in Social Policy, at Magee told the Sentinel that: “An unintended consequence of cuts to the public sector or to the private sector growing at the expense of the public - is that the gender pay gap will grow.”
Inequality in pay between women and men in Londonderry and across Northern Ireland as a whole has been kept much lower than in the UK generally, according to a research paper by Patricia McDowell of the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), which was first published in 2010.
Ms McDowell revealed that the generally higher pay of the public versus private sector (with a wider differential than in the rest of the UK); the higher engagement of women than men in the public sector and the concentration of full-time women workers in Northern Ireland in higher paying occupations associated with the public sector were sheltering women here from wider gender pay gaps suffered in Great Britain.
Whilst agreeing that the gender pay gap will widen with the diminishment of the public sector, Ms Horgan told the Sentinel that: “It’s not necessarily that the public sector pays wages that are high - thousands of civil and public servants in NI, mainly women, benefited from the introduction of the minimum wage.”
And she went on to explain that since the publication of Ms McDowell’s ‘The Gender Pay Gap in Context: Causes, consequences and international perspectives’ the pay gap has already started to increase.
“This report is two years old and things have got worse in relation to the gender pay gap in NI since it was published. This is mainly for the reasons identified in the report as contributing to the smaller gap here than in other parts of the UK - the dependence on low-paid part-time jobs and what’s happening in the public sector,” she stated.
The decimation of part-time jobs has been a contributory factor, she explained: “Since the recession, the number of hours worked and therefore money earned by everyone in part-time jobs has dropped and, since most part-time workers are women, their pay has gone down.
“There have been many redundancies in the public sector, most of them of low-level, relatively low-paid, workers and again this has hit women the hardest.”
But whilst Ms Horgan believes the Treasury and Executive’s plans to rebalance the NI economy will widen inequality between the sexes in Londonderry and across NI the problem is longstanding despite women having qualifications as good as or better than their male counterparts.
She explained that this is due to occupational segregation: “This is where work is seen as ‘women’s work’ and tends to be lower paid than similar work carried out by men.
“So, primary school teaching or nursing tend to be overwhelmingly dominated by women and paid less than, say University lecturers or doctors where men are more in evidence.”
She continued: “The other reason women are paid less is the caring role women take, particularly when they have children, which means they have to take time out of the workforce and are unwilling to take on very pressured roles that will interfere with their caring roles.
“Women are most likely to be sacked when they are pregnant and most likely to be demoted when they return from maternity leave - both situations are illegal but it is almost impossible for women not in trade unions to prevent this happening.”
However, Ms Horgan cautioned that in the lowest paid professions there is little or no gender pay gap.
“It’s important to recognise that in Northern Ireland, as in other parts of the world, the ‘race to the bottom’ has seen both men and women workers in the lowest paid jobs being paid pretty much the same, that is, the minimum wage.
“So, there is virtually no gender pay gap in relation to hourly pay in the bottom half of the income distribution. Women and men are both paid poorly.”
According to Ms McDowell’s research the gender pay gap in Northern Ireland is largely the result of the predominance of women among low-paid part-time workers
However, the “public sector ‘premium’, a lower level of general wage inequality, and a lower female participation rate may all have acted to reduce the gender pay gap in Northern Ireland relative to that in the UK.”
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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