Addressing the gender pay gap

Addressing the gender pay gap

Recent actions by the BBC shed light on inequality issues in the workplace

The best-known male presenters from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) agreed last month to accept reduced salaries as part of a programme undertaken by BBC management to address pay inequality within the organisation.

The decision to take corrective action was promoted by the resignation of Carrie Gracie, the China editor for the BBC, to protest against the gender pay gap. She reportedly was paid at least 50% less than the two international editors in North America and Middle East, both of whom are men. While she left her post at the Beijing bureau,she remains with the BBC.

The gender pay gap is the percentage difference between women’s and men’s earnings. Disclosure of gender pay gap information on an annual basis has become an obligation for UK employers who have employed 250 employees or more under the UK Equality Act 2010. A snapshot report of their employees’ pay was required to be submitted last year, and the full report will then be legally required to be submitted no later than April 2018, which will be publicly available on a government database.

More dramatic action to close the gender pay gap has been taken by Iceland, which has become the first country in the world to make it illegal to pay men more than women.

Currently, no such legal requirement exists for employers in Thailand to collect, record, analyse or publish gender pay gap data and make it available to the public. However, similar to the UK, Thai employment laws contain provisions by which employers are legally required to treat male and female employees equally in their employment, unless the description or nature of work prevents such treatment.

In particular, on the pay issue, wage, overtime pay, holiday pay and holiday overtime pay must be equally fixed by the employer regardless of whether the employee is male or female, if the work to be performed is of the same nature, quality and quantity.

Despite the existence of the above provisions, they have rarely been enforced by the authorities and the employers. There exist a handful of Supreme Court decisions on the equal treatment between male and female employees, where the court decided that retirement policies which prescribed retirement age of female and male employees differently based purely on their gender are unlawful, and thus void. In those cases, the retirement age for female employees was set at 55, while that of their male counterparts was 60.

However there has not yet been any Supreme Court decision on the gender differences in pay. Issues that tend to dominate the labour headlines in the media in Thailand tend to concern minimum wage and the increase in the maximum rate of severance pay.

According to the Global Gender Gap Index, which has been used by the World Economic Forum as a framework for identifying gender-based disparities and tracking countries’ progress in closing gaps over time, Thailand ranked 75th out of 144 (the lowest representing the most progress towards gender parity) in the 2017 edition of the report. Specifically on the issue of wage equality for similar work, Thailand scored 0.763 in 2017, where zero represents absolute imparity and 1 is absolute parity.

The enactment of the Gender Equality Act BE 2558 in 2015 is another positive step taken by the government towards promoting gender equality. This act does not, however, address the issue of pay in itself, but equality issues in general.

Suriyong Tungsuwan is a partner and Theeranit Pongpanarat is an associate with Baker McKenzie in Bangkok.

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