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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C
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Opinion We need a strike at 4.27pm this Friday for women’s pay

Ireland’s pay gap between men and women is 14% – but can we do something about it, asks Julien Mercille.

WE SEEM TO have entered striking season. The first garda strike was called off on Friday but a decision has yet to be made about the later ones, while some secondary teachers are due to strike tomorrow. If these go ahead, more strikes could happen across the public sector and beyond.

So let me jump into the fray and propose yet another strike that we should all participate in: a strike for better pay for women, that is, a strike to close the gender pay gap.

It would take place this Friday 11 November when at 4.27pm, all women would simply walk off their job.

Why that day and time? Because of the 14% pay gap women face in Ireland. It means that from 4.27pm every work day (assuming a work day that starts at 9am and ends at 5.30pm), women effectively work for free. Put another way, it means that from 11 November this year, women will work for free for the rest of the year.

The 14% pay gap means that on average, when an Irish man and a woman each work one hour, the woman earns 14% less than the man. In the EU, the pay gap is 16.7%.

Don’t confuse this with the “overall earnings gap”, which is 37.5% in Ireland and 39.8% in the EU. This is the difference between what an average woman and man earns per year. So it takes into account the fact that women usually work fewer hours, or may be on a career break, or work part-time, so necessarily make less money.

But the gender pay gap—of 14%—is the difference in earnings when men and women work for the same amount of time. In an egalitarian society, it would be very close to zero.

Why does this even exist?

The gap arises for many reasons.

First, there is the important question of household unpaid work. Women are expected to do much more of child or elderly care, in addition to other household duties.

Indeed, in Europe, working men do on average only 9 hours per week of household duties, while working women do 26 hours. So no, taking the garbage out in 2 minutes is not equivalent to doing the dishes and the kids’ lunches in 35 minutes.

Therefore, it is more likely that women will take career breaks or will work part-time to do that unpaid work. This impacts negatively on their career development and promotion prospects, which translates into lower salaries and pensions.

Second, traditions, prejudice and stereotypes mean that girls and women are often expected to make educational choices that affect their future careers negatively. For example, while 60% of new university graduates are women, they still are a minority in engineering, computing and mathematics. There are thus fewer women working in scientific and technical jobs, and conversely, more women in lower-paid occupations.

Third, women can earn less than men for jobs of equal value. For example, cashiers in a supermarket, mostly female, usually make less than employees who stack shelves, who are mainly male.

Fourth, segregation in the labour means that some economic sectors are dominated by men or women. For example, many women work in cleaning and care work, which are low-paid occupations.

In Ireland, 73% of the 70,000 workers on the minimum wage are women. Most are working in sectors like accommodation, food, wholesale and retail. Conversely, men dominate top-level positions in large companies, which are highly-paid. Fewer than 4% of CEOs in Europe are women, which says it all.

Will Ireland follow? 

What can we do to change this? A starting point would be for women to walk off their job all across Ireland this Friday 11th November at 4.27pm.

And men should also support them by striking as well.

You think that’s crazy? It’s not. Women in Iceland have done it for years. A few days ago, thousands left work at 2.38pm around the country on a Monday. And it has become somewhat of a tradition. As far back as 25 October 1975, Icelandic women took a “day off” when 90% of them protested the gender gap.

And guess what, Iceland has been ranked the best country in the world for gender equality, which includes economic, political, educational and health indicators.

Inspired by Iceland, a group of French women are thinking about doing it on 7 November.

Will Ireland follow?

Some say that strikes are too radical. But that’s not true. What’s too radical is a 14% pay gap.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Twitter: @JulienMercille

Read more from Julien:

Hillary Clinton and Wikileaks: Is it legitimate to release personal emails in full?

The US football players kneeling for the national anthem are doing something important

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