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IT’S SOMETHING OF AN article of faith across the Caribbean and elsewhere: employees, regardless of their gender, that are hired to do the same work, should receive equal pay, right?
Wrong, at least not in practice in Barbados. For in its annual global survey of human rights, the United States State Department recently made a shocking complaint about Barbados.
It was: “The law does not mandate equal pay for equal work, and reports indicated that women earned significantly less than men for comparable work.”
It was shocking because, if true, the situation falls far short of our goal of achieving gender equity. Just two Saturdays ago, Barbadian women took to the streets to emphasise the need for even-handed treatment and they were vociferous about the situation.
This is why as a country we should act with deliberate speed to ensure that the victims and their families aren’t short-changed, figuratively and literally, any longer.
After all, successive governments, beginning in the mid-1970s, had set themselves the achievable objective of putting men and women on an equal legal footing.
What makes it particularly perplexing is that in the same 2016 report it was stated, quite unequivocally, that the law “provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men”. Just as important, “women actively participate in all aspects of national life and were well represented at all levels of the public and private sectors”. That’s how it must be.
A look at our key national institutions would underscore that point. For instance, the presidency of the Senate, the leadership of the Opposition in the House of Assembly, the Ministry of Labour which is responsible for making the working environment safe and sound, the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, churches, the Barbados Workers’ Union, National Union of Public Workers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union – all headed by women.
At the very least, the Minister of Labour, Senator Dr Esther Byer Suckoo, should find out what the facts are by getting inspectors to undertake an objective assessment of the situation. That would be a first step. Next would be vigorous corrective action, including outlawing current odious unfair labour practices. Our unions also have a role in this.
But unequal pay is not the only form of discrimination that exists in our labour environment. Human rights activists regularly complain of sexual harassment suffered by women on the job.
The problem can be traced to a lack of legislation which would stipulate punishment for such behaviour. As the report stated, “no law contains penalties specifically for sexual harassment” and “human rights activists reported that sexual harassment continued to be of serious concern”.
That must also spur Senator Byer Suckoo into action. We shouldn’t wait for it to become a campaign issue at election time.