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We're still a long way off closing the gender pay gap, no matter what someone on a TV panel says

It goes beyond “the mammy issue”.

IT’S BEEN A bad week for feminism, depending on what way you look at it – from Ireland’s leading women’s podcast denouncing it, to columnist Larissa Nolan saying that the gender pay gap doesn’t exist. 

Yep, there’s sure been a lot of “straight talking” this week.


“The gender pay gap only kicks in when you enter motherhood, it’s a motherhood gap,” Larissa said.

That’s actually directly related to choice – people talking maternity leave, working part-time, or dropping out of the line of work altogether … It’s not something anybody wants to hear about. It never makes the news.”

You cannot reduce the pay gap down to a ‘mammy issue’. It’s a simplistic view which overlooks how structurally embedded the problem is.

Earlier this year, the Government published the general scheme of the gender pay gap information bill – essentially an amendment to place this in the Employment Equality Act. The Bill will be scrutinised by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality in November 2018 which will also include consultation with key stakeholders, including the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

Speaking to DailyEdge,  ICTU’s Equality Officer David Joyce says: “People often confuse the gender pay gap with the concept of equal pay. Unequal pay is something that is illegal under the Employment and Equality Act. It’s an offence to discriminate in terms of payment on the basis of somebody’s gender.

The gender pay gap is a much broader concept – that’s basically a measure of what women and men get paid in workplaces in total. The current [gender pay gap] figure for Ireland is 13.9%.”

In other words, men get paid 13.9% more than women. However, that doesn’t mean men get paid 13.9% more than women do for doing the same job. 

“It’s something that gets thrown around in the media and it leads to an awful lot of confusion,” he continues.

The mammy issue

“In terms of motherhood, yes of course, and absences in the work place are a contributing factor to the gender pay gap,” he says. “You might miss promotional opportunities. You’re out of the network for a good chunk of time. 

But to say that the gender pay gap is really just a ‘motherhood gap’ is not the case.

“Women are much more likely to be involved in unpaid tasks like caring responsibilities at home. We [Ireland] don’t have a publicly funded childcare system which offers services to people at an affordable rate. The lack of that publicly-available system means it acts as a barrier to women entering the labour market.”

The system, David says, is designed so that it inevitably ends up being a woman who takes time out from work to care for a child. Obviously, there’s a biological reasoning for this – one of the purposes of maternity leave is recovery. Beyond that though, it shouldn’t matter who stays home to care for the children.

“Our system is very much behind our EU partners when it comes to that kind of sharing between men and women. Two weeks of paternity leave was introduced two years ago, and the government have indicated an intention to introduce a system of paid parental leave from this time next year. It would be a period rising to seven weeks, non-transferable – both parents have to take the seven weeks, if they want it.”

A girl’s work

The issue goes further than the simple brass tacks of wages – in Ireland and beyond, there remains an unequal distribution of men and women in various occupations. It goes right back to gender stereotyping, with curriculum in schools bearing a lot of the responsibility for encouraging men and women to pursue differing careers.

Joyce points to sectors such as retail and childcare, which is predominately populated by women and characterised by low pay and precarious hours. 

“In terms of a gender pay gap, until you tackle those kinds of conditions in sectors like that, those kind of issues are big contributing factors,” David said. 

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