A new report released by the ITUC for March 8, International Women’s Day, has revealed that the pay gap between men and women worldwide may be much higher than official government figures. The report, “Gender (in)Equality in the Labour Market”, is based on survey results of some 300,000 women and men in 20 countries. It puts the global pay gap at up to 22%, rather than the 16.5% figure taken from official government figures and released by the ITUC on March 8 last year.

The report also confirms previous findings that union membership, and particularly the inclusion of women in collective bargaining agreements, leads to much better incomes for both women and men, as well as better pay for women relative to their male co-workers. The study, which follows the March 8 ITUC Global Gender Pay Gap report, was written by London-based pay specialists Incomes Data Services and is based on internet surveys conducted in industrialised and developing countries in 2008 by the WageIndicator Foundation.

“This report clearly confirms the advantage which men and women workers gain from union membership, which is all the more important in the current global economic crisis when jobs and living standards for millions of workers are under severe threat,” said Guy Ryder, ITUC general secretary.

Other key findings in the report include confirmation that women with higher educational qualifications actually experience a larger income gap compared to males with similar qualifications and that the pay gap increases with age.

“There are a number of reasons why women still earn so much less than men, including overt as well as subtle discrimination against women in the labour market and in the workplace, the way that employers, especially in the private sector, handle promotions to better-paid jobs, and lack of maternity protection for women and parenting leave that both men and women can access,” said Sharan Burrow, president of the ITUC and of the Australian Trade Union Centre ACTU.

A special new ITUC video on maternity protection aims to bring public attention to the problems faced by women workers in balancing work and activities at home and in the community.

Impact of Economic Crisis on Women

The report also examines the impact of economic recession on women’s access to employment and incomes. Previous downturns have had a particularly negative effect on women in developing countries working in export industries and agriculture. Any reductions in government spending on health, social protection and education also often hit women hardest. Special attention must be given to the impacts of policy responses on women in the context of government action taken to tackle the current crisis.

“The global trend towards regular employment being replaced by contract labour and agency employment has had a particular effect on women, and these precarious jobs are the first to go as employers reduce their payrolls in this global recession. Millions upon millions of women working in domestic service and as migrant workers are facing unemployment or have already lost their jobs, and already-struggling households around the world are being hit hard because of this,” said Ryder.

A special chapter in the report also tackles the appalling human and economic cost of violence against women, taking a close look at the impact of violence against women at home, in society and at work. The report cites WHO figures indicting that in some countries a majority of women experience physical assault and psychological intimidation, while a global average of some one-third of women suffer from violence at some stage in their lives. Along with the lasting physical and mental damage caused by violence against women, the report advances clear evidence of its economic effects on women’s employment and economic situation. Examples are given of the total economic cost of violence against women in several countries indicating that the total global cost is likely to be in the tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars.

“Unions around the world are working to stop violence against women, through government action, raising awareness and also action in workplaces. We are calling on governments to work together to build a complete picture of the causes and effects, including analysis of the huge economic costs which add to the impacts on women themselves and on society,” said Burrow.