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Gender Pay Gap in Sri Lanka

While Sri Lanka’s constitution outlaws discrimination based on sex, Sri Lanka does not have any specific laws directly addressing gender based pay variations. Existing labour laws do not specifically state that both women and women should be paid the same wage for the same job.

What does the Sri Lankan law say about gender pay gap
While Sri Lanka’s constitution outlaws discrimination based on sex, Sri Lanka does not have any specific laws directly addressing gender based pay variations. Existing labour laws do not specifically state that both women and women should be paid the same wage for the same job. However, labour laws have been designed to discourage discrimination based on sex.

In the formal private sector employment, minimum wages are set by different wages boards. Minimum wages are decided for different worker grades, and is not differentiated based on sex. Public sector salaries are also set based on job categories and employment grades and are non-discriminatory.  Therefore, regardless of being male or female, the wage is based on the job category and grade.

Sri Lankan labour laws also extend additional protection for women workers through compulsory maternity benefits and controls on overtime work, that limits exploitation of women. Limitations on night time work, are also concerned with physical safety and protection of women.

In addition, while there are complaints of sexual harassment at work places, complaints of discrimination based on pay, are almost unheard of in Sri Lanka.
However, in such instances, the aggrieved party can complain to the Commissioner of Labour and initiate a case at the labour tribunal.

Outside the law
Trade unions and women’s activists however, maintain that while Sri Lankan labour laws are non-discriminatory with regards to wages, discrimination is introduced through the market process – particularly in the private sector. While minimum wages are fixed by the Wages Boards in practice, these cover only some sectors and in all sectors employees are expected to negotiate for their overall take home salaries. Women are generally seen as weaker in such skills than men.

Another factor that could result in a wider gender pay gap is the phenomenon known as the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling is a cultural barrier that discourages women from competing for top positions and entering some professions seen as male dominated. This, situation has resulted in women being concentrated in lower categories of employment, and in many cases unskilled employment, that offers lower pay.

Gender discrimination based on pay may also be greater in the informal economy. A major share of Sri Lanka’s economy, approximately 60% falls within the informal sector and does not come under the supervision of labour laws or labour inspectors.
However, there is no data on the gender pay gap in Sri Lanka.

Gender pay gap and collective agreements
The largest collective agreement in Sri Lanka is between plantation trade unions and plantation companies that set the daily wages for field workers in the plantations sector. A majority of plantation workers are women, as tea plucking is seen as a predominantly female occupation.  Male workers are employed for other types of field work.

The practice during the British colonial period where women’s pay was handed over to her husband has now been officially discontinued.  The daily wage, as agreed by the collective agreement, is also equal for both men and women.

However, plantation industry trade unions say that while the wage is equal, the terms of work are not. While the ‘plucking norm’ set for women is applicable for 8 hours of work or more, the ‘tasks’ set for men are generally of shorter duration. However, women while working longer hours are also expected, in the plantation culture, to be caretakers of children and the elderly.

Other collective agreements include the banking sector collective agreement that applies to a number of banks and also state sector collative agreements. In these cases too, the salaries, increments and benefits are non discriminatory.

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