Covid-19 reduced gender wage gap, but not for the right reasons

Covid-19 reduced gender wage gap, but not for the right reasons

While the Covid-19 pandemic had a huge impact on employment in 2020, the wage gap narrowed slightly compared to 2019. Yet what might seems a cause for celebration is actually a little more complex with many low-wage female workers in fact out of work.

New pay gap figures based on 2020 data from the National Social Security Office (NSSO) show a slight decrease from the previous year. This normally indicates a gradual improvement of women's position in the labour market but this was not the case in 2020, as job loss and temporary unemployment affected blue-collar and female workers disproportionately.

"The effects of the pandemic were unevenly distributed. People who were already vulnerable often suffered the most. Think about cleaners, kitchen help, factory workers," Liesbet Stevens, deputy director of the Institute for Gender Equality, said. "We need targeted action to support this group so that they can cope in current and future crises."

The absence of female workers from the labour market, often with very low wages, meant that they were not included in the calculation of women's average wages – resulting in a higher average wage for women in 2020 and a smaller wage gap. Low-skilled people were more often unable to work from home, temporary contracts were not renewed, and those who were unemployed remained so during this period.

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Within this category of low-skilled workers, a large gender gap also emerged: women are often more vulnerable than men. Additionally, 71% of female blue-collar workers work part-time, compared to 15% of male ones. The average hourly wages of female workers, which are already very low, therefore yield very little at the end of the month.

"Women form the vast majority in many so-called essential occupations in health and care, retail, childcare and cleaning, among others," said State Secretary for Gender Equality Sarah Schlitz. "They were at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic, while those very jobs are socially and financially undervalued."

As especially the most vulnerable women were hit hard by the social and economic impact of the health crisis, Schlitz launched 'Bread and Roses' on Wednesday: a call for projects to promote the inclusion and sustainable employment of women in vulnerable situations in the Belgian labour market, as employees and/or self-employed workers.

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