Let’s talk about salaries. Me first: In 1992 I got my first fulltime job as a junior clerk at a bank.
Yes, I’m not exactly the banker type – I’d get into trouble for throwing open the blinds – but one thing I appreciated was the salary structure.
Everyone, from cleaners to managers, was graded at a certain level, and that dictated your pay.
It felt fair and equitable, except for one small detail: the men got a bonus because they were deemed the “breadwinners”.
The fact that I was a single mother didn’t come into it.
That’s another argument though – and I’m pretty certain the bank in question has long since scrapped this policy – but it was good to know that your peers were paid the same as you, and those higher up the ladder more, and not disproportionately so.
You knew where you stood. You knew where everyone stood.
Disclose the gap
So, I’m delighted that the government is introducing legislation requiring listed and state-owned companies to disclose the gap between highest and lowest paid staff members, as well as median pay.
These things matter.
You see, leaving the bank was a bit of a shock to me. Salaries were suddenly top secret, never to be discussed.
Why, though? Who benefitted from this policy?
Men and salaries
The company benefitted.
And men. Men were universally paid more, even for less work.
Over Friday drinkies, I discovered one male colleague in a lower position was paid significantly more than me; another man I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with took home double what I did.
The company paid not what you were worth, but what they could get away with.
Such is the South African way. And this inequality has rippled out, tsunami-ing beyond the workplace.
Most unequal country
From 1993 to 2019, the pre-tax income of the top one percent in South Africa rose by 50%, while that of the poorest 50% fell by a third.
Ours is officially the most unequal country on the planet, with one percent of the population owning 50% of the wealth.
And yet we barely acknowledge that inequality is the single biggest driver of societal problems, including crime. B
ut now, finally (some) salaries will no longer be a state secret. So how much do you earn? And how much do you pay?