This study provides data con rming that workers in lower-skilled health and social care assistant positions earn con- siderably less than the national average wage in their country. It also shows that the higher the proportion of women in the sector, the lower the average relative income – and this applies also to skilled nurses and midwives as well as lower-skilled assistant professions. However, there is a need for more dis- aggregated data to properly analyse the income situation in female-dominated jobs. The analysis of the situation of di erent occupational groups within the health and social care sector yields great variation across occupational groups and countries with regard to care workers’ incomes (measured in terms of their relative income positions compared to all other occupations).
Factors behind low pay in health and social care
The wage penalty for working in female-dominated sectors and occupations such as health and social care can be explained by economic, industrial relations and sociological factors. Firstly there is the under nancing of social care as a consequence of the re- organisation and partial retrenchment of the welfare state involving also pri- vatisation and commodi cation of the provision of state services. Secondly, the employees’ relative power in wage negotiations is weaker than in other male-dominated sectors and thirdly low wages in the health and social care sector result from the undervaluation of female work.
Trade union strategies to tackle low pay
A survey of trade unions in the health and social care sector produced responses that can be divided into three broad categories depending on the time horizon and the target of the various measures. Firstly, there are more short-term measures to raise wages and to deal with immediate wage discrimination such as legal measures and the pursuit of speci c collective bargaining strategies aiming to improve the pay of low- wage earners in female-dominated sectors. Secondly, there are more long- term measures to deal with structural discrimination by pursuing changes to the existing pay and grading schemes and by addressing the various forms of cultural undervaluation of female work. The latter aims at changing the public perception of female work more generally and work in the health and social sector more particularly. Thirdly, there are measures which are directly ad- dressed to the state such as initiatives to increase the minimum wage and to end austerity policies.
Collective bargaining strategies
One of the most prominent more short-term approaches to address the issue of low pay in female-dominated sectors is to pursue a collective bargaining strategy which prioritises above-average pay increases for lower wage groups and/or typically female-dominated occupations. Very often such disproportionate increases are achieved by combining at-rate pay increases for lower wage groups and/or female-dominated occupational groups with overall percentage increases. This can be based on a comparison of wages in typically female-dominated jobs with wages in typically male-dominated jobs and professions which show the same or similar characteristics in terms of quali cation and job requirements.
Training Ensuring equal access to training for female workers can help im- prove their career prospects and their chances to move up the pay scale. With women making up the majority of part-time workers, it is crucial that this group is not denied the right to training and educational leave.
Legal measures Pursuing legal action by bringing equal pay claims before court was another means used by trade unions to improve the situation in female- dominated sectors. This strategy has been extensively and successfully adopt- ed in the UK where it has led to hundreds of thousands of equality pay claims and millions in compensation for workers.
Changes to pay structures
Changes to pay systems are among more long-term measures to deal with structural discrimination. These can involve abolishing the lowest pay grades and changing the criteria on which the pay scheme is based. The key factors here include : ensuring that prior experience is given equal importance to formal quali cations; increasing the focus on the con- tent of the job performed and on increasing the transparency of the criteria on which pay is based. In most cases, these measures were embedded in a broader approach to establish gender-neutral job evaluation schemes.
Addressing undervaluation of female work
At the heart of the phenomenon of low pay in female-dominated professions lies the cultural undervaluation of female work. This refers to insufficient recognition, appreciation and remuneration of the skills and tasks related to the work performed in female-dominated occupations. Here the response is about explicitly addressing the root of the problem by changing the public perception of the work performed in female-dominated sectors like health and social care.
Measures aimed directly at the state These can involve improving the pay of low-paid workers for instance through increases in the minimum wage, end- ing austerity-induced pay freezes and more supportive conditions for the ex- tension of collective agreements. There are also other initiatives such as im- proved regulation on pay transparency as a precondition for pay comparisons and the development of gender-neutral job evaluation schemes.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) – She works hard for the money: tackling low pay in sectors dominated by women – evidence from health and social care / Working Papers / Publications / Home