Equal Pay The

Equal Pay The

Equal Pay, the principle of paying a given rate for a given job irrespective of the worker's nationality, colour or sex. In Great Britain equal pay is discussed mostly in relation to sex. Trade unions, especially those with predominantly female membership, have argued for 'the rate for the job', but there are many difficulties in applying this principle. Many industrial jobs are exclusively male; where both men and women are employed there is the problem of deciding whether their jobs are similar and comparable. Even if they are, 'equal work' requires equal output, but women may produce less or work less efficiently. Arguments for equal pay seem strongest in the non-manual occupations and in the professions like teaching, where the work and the degree of efficiency are likely to be the same for men and women. A counter-argument is that female employees are less likely to work continuously for long periods, since on marriage most leave for a time at least, and the employer has to recruit and train replacements more frequently than with men. Another economic argument against equal pay is that at existing levels of payment there seems to be no shortage of women workers, but the same is not true of men; the supply price of female workers is lower than that of male. Since a central purpose of price is to attract supply, equal pay may attract fewer men and more women than are required.

Equal pay is, however, being accepted in some jobs, notably the public service and education. Its long-term effects cannot yet be assessed. If it were to be universally accepted over the whole economy, the effect on women's employment opportunities might be adverse: many employers would prefer to employ a man rather than a woman at the same rate of pay. Equal pay might also raise costs in industry, where they would be paid partly by the consumer in higher prices, and in the public service, where they would be paid by the taxpayer.

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