Sheffield cuts nursery workers’ pay for sake of gender equality

I’ve already blogged on this, but I’m so angry that I’m going to do it again. Sheffield city council has decided to cut the pay of many of the lowest paid workers in the name of gender equality– amongst these are such traditionally female occupations as nursery workers and special education assistants, though also some traditionally male jobs. The BBC story focuses on a special education worker who is having her pay cut from 17,000 to 13,000 pounds. Apparently there are many cases like this.

I think I hesitated to say very much yesterday because I didn’t know all the details of the council’s reasoning. But on further reflection I decided I didn’t need to know more. According to the BBC story linked to, the council’s explanation is that they grouped jobs into categories and then tried to equalise within categories. I initially thought to myself that I couldn’t say very much because I didn’t know the details of these categories. But that’s just wrong, because:
(1) If you’re reducing the pay of some of the lowest paid in the name of fairness, something has REALLY gone wrong. (So maybe those categories need re-thinking.)
(2) If you’re reducing the pay of some of the lowest paid traditionally female jobs in the name of gender equity, something has REALLY gone wrong. (So maybe those categories need re-thinking.)

Today I got a further explanation in response to my letter of complaint:

Currently we have a situation where there are two groups of Nursery / School staff.
1. Those who work term time, and get paid a reduced salary to reflect the weeks they do not work.
2. Those who work term time, but get full time pay regardless of the weeks they don’t work.
This is the key issue that is having an impact on the pay of nursery workers. It is not acceptable to have people working side by side who get paid more for doing the same work.

I can certainly appreciate that the current system is unfair. HOWEVER we’re talking about a situation in which currently some people doing absolutely vital and extremely difficult work for 17,000 pounds and other people are doing the same absolutely vital and extremely difficult work for even less. Both of these groups are seriously underpaid. Justice is NOT served by reducing the pay of the somewhat less underpaid to the level of the even more underpaid.

Now– why do I keep blogging about this here, aside from the reasons given above? Because this is being justified in the name of gender equality, and so in the name of feminism. A gross injustice is being carried out in the name of feminism, and we MUST fight it. It is deeply offensive to call this feminist, and it is precisely the sort of thing that convinces people that feminists are elitists happy to sacrifice the pay of low-paid workers for some deeply confused notion of gender equality that includes cutting the pay of nursery workers.

I urge you to complain here, and to spread the word on your own blogs if you have them. This isn’t fairness, and it isn’t feminism.

9 thoughts on “Sheffield cuts nursery workers’ pay for sake of gender equality

  1. yes, it doesn’t seem like one actually needs to know more. lowering the pay of already low-paid workers simply isn’t a promotion of pay equality. that’s just daft. and probably, totally sick and cynical on the part of the council, at that: i bet they know good and well that their pay cuts aren’t making workers more equal. ‘haha, we can cut the budget by screwing powerless workers and blame it on feminists!’ fecking sick.

  2. Something similarish happened in Birmingham recently when the Council cut a lot of people’s pay to make things fairer. Again, these were not well-paid people to begin with.

  3. hi monkey – were there any further steps taken in B’ham? Were there complaints and a subsequent change in policy?
    thanks for bringing this to our attention so clearly Jender. Really important to get complaints in about this. The report suggests this has happened as the result of govt equal pay initiatives. But surely this is not what was envisaged – highlighting the dreadful application of a laudable policy is really important.
    (recall the occasion where someone pointed out to Blair the de facto consequences of the ‘doctor’s appointments within 24 hrs’ policy (namely, that you couldn’t do otherwise than ring and book on the day – terrible if you need to make plans around things like childcare or school). He was shocked at the way the sensible policy was being applied in practice. Clearly a quite different kind of case to that at issue here, but hopefully this case will likewise be recognised as a dreadful application of a good policy, and things will be altered to preserve the spirit of the policy…)

  4. Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened in Birmingham. I do know that my friend lost a good chunk of her wages as her job was affected. I think some of her colleagues were going to the Union about it. I’ll try and find out more.

  5. In order for feminists to do anything about pay (in)equity they have to start WITHIN the group of women. It is generally the case that an overpaid woman takes issue with a man in the next office being a bit more overpaid than she is instead of taking issue with the fact that while she is being overpaid there are women starving because they are under the poverty level. If women do not care enough to make equality WITHIN the group why is there any reason for men to believe that there should be equality between groups? ALso while some women are very busily perpetuating inequality between women why is it that they should be equal to men? All you can end up with is equality within the entrenched social stratification with some women & men having much too much and others considered lower who are not permitted to have enough. Within the economic heirarchy of any capitalist system it is almost always the case that lifelong socioeconomic status is inherited from one’s parents, even if one moves a rung up on the ladder they are starting far lower than the middle class, as long as that holds there can be no equality of women because there will never be equality in the group of women.
    Does this write up mean that it was acceptable for nursery workers to make far less than academics but unacceptable for them to lower the wage?
    It seems like it is almost always OK to argue about income as long as it stays within the power relations set up by capitalist hegemony, any step outside of that and you see women keepng other women in a lower status bracket, imagine, for instance, if all the women who do the work that should belong to the upperclasses left their jobs until they got a living wage? The the upperclass women who expect other women to clean their houses and serve them food on a platter would throw a fit and insist that the women who work for them do not deserve to live well.
    There can be no kind of equality at all within a capitalist system and any ‘feminist’ who wants to live within it needs to admit that they want equality only for their own income bracket and none below it.

  6. You ask: “Does this write up mean that it was acceptable for nursery workers to make far less than academics but unacceptable for them to lower the wage?”
    My answer: absolutely not– that’s why I said they were lowering the pay of people who were already underpaid.
    But I also think you’re absolutely right that we don’t spend enough time thinking about that fact and organising around it. Thank you for reminding us of that: it’s vitally important.

  7. Jender,
    I knew you said that it is just that unless it is a ‘new’ thing like the lowering for the most part it gets ignored. This blog does the best I’ve seen with class issues actually of any philosophical blogs.

  8. I wonder if it ever occured to them to take a few pounds from the senior managers of the council to spread around the workers? (Rhetorical question – we know the answer to that)

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