Covid-19 a ‘catalyst for closing the pay gap’

The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare workplace inequalities, with rank and file workers hardest hit by the crisis.

Despite commitments by companies to close the pay gap, income disparities continue to be a pressing concern in South Africa, PwC noted in its non-executive directors 2020 report on practices and fees trends. 

In the past year, executive directors still made about 66 times more than workers earning the national minimum wage. Only 6% of chief executives at JSE listed companies were women. The overwhelming majority (89%) of chief executives were white.

But, according to the report, the Covid-19 pandemic could be the push needed to close the pay gap. 

Another recent report, the National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, noted that women and those on the lowest rungs of workplace hierarchies were disproportionately affected by South Africa’s lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.


As companies deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic, many have called for a freeze on executive bonuses. In South Africa, executives and chief executives chose to forgo a portion of their salaries to soften the blow of the crisis on lower-level workers. In a recent survey by Proxy Insight of global investors, 68% said executive pay cuts should persist beyond the pandemic.

The PwC report comes just weeks after the latest draft of the Employment Equity Amendment Bill was published. 

The Bill is aimed at monitoring disproportionate income disparities. The amendments give the minister of employment and labour greater powers to impose targets that will ensure equitable workplace representation at all levels.

The amendments were fast tracked after the findings of the latest Commission for Employment Equity report, which painted a grim picture of efforts to transform South African workplaces. 

According to the report, released almost a year ago, 65.5% of high-level managers were white and 76.5% were men. The large majority of the country’s unskilled workforce was black.

The report also noted that the over-representation of white people in higher positions is likely to persist as they benefited the most from recruitment, promotional and skills development opportunities.

PwC's Executive Directors - Practices and Remuneration Trends Report 2020 by Mail and Guardian on Scribd

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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