By Trisha Gupta:
If two people do the same work, dedicate the same amount of time to it, and are equally skilled, they should be earning the same amount of money, right? Wrong. There is another question one must ask in order to determine that – do they belong to the same gender?
Disparity in the wages of men and women is a worldwide phenomenon. Even when women participate at par with men, they continue to be denied higher positions in organisations. This phenomenon even has a specific term. Wage computing agencies call it the “glass ceiling”, beyond which a woman cannot rise.
However, I come bearing some good news. According to data from the National Sample Survey Office, the average wage rate for women, which was 29.2% lower than that of men in 2004-05, is now only one-fifth lower than men (Still lower, mind you). Why this sudden decrease, you ask? The main reason is what experts like to call a “supply-side crunch”, which means a period in which the supply of a particular product is lower than its demand, thereby leading to higher prices. The ‘product’ in this context are women employees.
Moreover, there is an increased social awareness and acknowledgement of gender rights, but there are other important reasons as well. Due to a rise in family incomes, more and more women are withdrawing from work, especially in the rural areas, as stated in a Mint analysis. Another reason may be that an increasing number of women are now choosing education over their farm jobs. An additional explanation can be given with reference to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNGREGA). This Act has attempted to standardised wages and encourages the participation of women in the workforce. A study conducted by the Indian Institute of Delhi called “The Demographic Challenge and Employment Growth in India” shows that MNGREGA is responsible for nearly 70% of the new employment opportunities in rural India.
But there is another side to the story. One might hope that a reduction in the gender gap in pay will also be accompanied by an improvement in working conditions. Wrong again! And this time, the victims are both men as well as women. Jayan Jose Thomas, assistant Professor at IIT Delhi and the person in charge of the survey states that due to an “informalisation” of the workforce, more people are being employed without any written contracts. Moreover, in many sectors, specially the construction sector, there is a serious breach of labour laws. In addition, while the employees are paying more wages, they are stifling the benefits. Statistical data shows that about 7 out of every 10 workers do not get paid leaves. Likewise, a higher proportion of women as compared to 2004-05 are not eligible for social security benefits. This could be due to a faster rise in wages, combined with a higher proportion of temporary wages.
In this economy where a landing a “good” job is as valuable as discovering a hidden treasure, people have no other option but to accept the jobs with the terrible conditions that they come with. So, the silver lining to the cloud that came in the form of decrease in the wage gap seems to be followed by yet another cloud of deteriorating work conditions.