Equal Pay for Equal Work – A Pipe Dream for the time being

Equal Pay for Equal Work

India being a developing nation is home to millions of people. It is the second-most populous country in the whole world and has the second-largest labor force around the globe. Having such a huge labor force makes the labor price cheap in India. They are paid according to the hours of laboring or according to the work allotted to them or done by them. But as easy and simple as it sounds the ground reality of labor remuneration in India is a lot different. The laborers have to face many difficulties including discrimination based on caste, creed, place, sex, etc. The discrimination or the widened gaps in gender and the deep-rooted moral values in society have led to the rise of one of the most controversial topics which is ‘equal pay for equal work’. 

The expression ‘equal pay for equal work’ denotes that every individual working is entitled to be paid fairly and accurately according to the work provided to them or done by them irrespective of their gender, caste, religion, or sex. There ought to be no discrimination or separation amongst anyone during the installment of payment for work.

Statutory Provisions

The expression equal pay for equal work is a well-recognized concept in the constitution of India and many provisions in the constitution imply this expression brightly. The rule of equal pay and equal work is contained in Part III (Fundamental Rights) and Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policy) of the Indian Constitution. Part III of the Constitution lays down the fundamental rights of the citizen and it consists of Articles 14, 15, and 16.

Article 14, that there is equality before the law and equal protection of the law. It implies that every man and woman are equal in the eyes of law (and nobody is superior) and both of them are equally protected by the law as well. Article 15, that there should be no discrimination against any individual (men, women, or any other gender) on the grounds of sex, caste, place of birth, religion, etc. Article 16, that there shall be equal opportunity for all citizens in matter related to employment or appointment under the state or state-governed offices.  

Part IV of the Indian Constitution lays down the Directive Principles of State Policy which lays down article 39. Article 39(d) lays down that both men and women are entitled to be paid equally for the equal work done. They are directives that the state has to follow but this directive is not enforceable by courts. Article 39 is to be read with Article 14 which denotes that even though they are not enforceable by courts, still they hold a great constitutional significance.

In Dharwad District PWD Literate Daily Wages Employees Association v. the State of Karnataka, AIR 1991 SC 328, the court has also recognized that the expression equal pay for equal work even though it’s only a directive upon the state still has a great constitutional significance. Article 42 also directs the state to make policies and procedures that emphasize such conditions which are just humane conditions for women in the workplace and to grant proper maternity relief.                                             

Besides the constitution, several other legislative provisions emphasize the importance of equal work and equal pay, like The Employees’ Compensation Act, 1923, The Minimum Wages Act, 1948, and The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.

  • The Employees’ Compensation Act, 1923 was enacted and passed in the year 1923 and passed certain provisions regarding financial assistance to the workers and employees. This legislation helped them to get proper financial assistance or compensation in any case of injury or accident in the due course of employment. 
  • The Minimum Wages Act, 1948 fixated the bar for the minimum wage from time to time as well as ensured that the workers had a minimum respectable standard of life to fulfill their necessities. This legislation also helped the workers against their exploitation at the workplace irrespective of their gender.
  • The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 was propagated on 26th September 1975 as an ordinance and was passed by a majority of votes from both the house in the year 1976 as an act. This act was a necessity due to the discrimination faced by women in that era. This act was made with the underlying fact of equity (equal with equals and unequal with unequal). This act provided for equal remuneration to both men and women respective of the work done without giving any special status or treatment to women (an exception to pregnancy, marriage, death, or retirement).  The women were also allowed to sue others for malpractices in the workplace.
  • Code on Wages Act, 2019 this act replaced the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. This was the first act to recognize the need of increasing the scope of equal pay and equal work to all genders including the transgender. This act discourages the gender gap and ensures the protection of workers and employees. 

International Provisions pertaining Equal Pay for Equal Work

Equal Pay for Equal Work
Image Courtesy – Rafael Varona

The notion of ‘equal work and equal pay is not only a domestic apprehension rather it is a worldwide concern. The topic has been raised several times in international forums such as the Equal Remuneration Convention (C 100) 1951, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), The Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC), etc., All these forums were made with the collective decision of global leaders and concerned peoples for the swift and effective achievements of the principle ‘equal pay for equal work’. They clearly state that every person deserves to be paid equally without any discrimination on any basis. It is also recognized as one of the basic human rights that every human deserves, and any violation of it would be subjected to strict punishment.

September 18th is recognized as the day to spread information and awareness regarding equal pay for equal work, it is known as International Equal Pay Day. 

Equal Pay for Equal Work – The Judicial Battles

Randhir Singh v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 879, in this landmark judgment for the very first time the doctrine of equal pay and equal work was expressed to have paramount importance in the constitution and was regarded as a constitutional goal. The judges, in this case, held that even though the doctrine was not described as one of the fundamental rights still it had greater significance and was capable of enforcement within the ambit of Article 32. The court also held that the purview of the doctrine was extended to articles such as 14, 15, and 16 and they had a very wide interpretation regarding this doctrine.

Mewa Ram v. All India Institute of Medical Science, AIR 1989 SC 957, in this case, the respectable Supreme Court held that the doctrine of equal pay and equal work is not abstract and it has certain limitations to it. Different treatment of persons belonging to different classes is permissible because of educational qualifications. People have to be treated differently where the standard matter of concern rises due to the qualification criteria. In this case, Supreme Court found that there was no discrimination regarding pay and held that the doctrine of equal work and equal pay is not abstract.

Federation of All India Customs and Central Excise Stenographers v. Union of India, AIR 1988 SCR 998, in this case, the Supreme Court held that the doctrine of equal work and equal pay though being considered a constitutional right cannot solely be judged based on the volume of work done rather it should be judged according to the nature of work. The court held while interpreting Articles 14, 16, and 39(d) that these articles should apply to those cases of unequal pay in which the distinction between the people is made without any classification or irrational arrangement. In this case, the court held that Distinction made based on strain, training required, the experience involved, skills, or confidentiality cannot be questioned within the ambit of the doctrine of equal pay and equal work.


The doctrine of equal pay and equal work is still a pipeline dream for many people in this country. One of the basic problems of this doctrine is caste discrimination and gender discrimination. Being a male-dominated and patriarchal society, gender discrimination in India has deep roots in society. Women, transgender people, and people of other classes (minorities) had to face discrimination in matters of pay wage, and employment.

To tackle all these problems the legislative body of India has passed and implemented several legislations like the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923, The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, and the Code on Wages Act, 2019, etc. Supreme Court also stated in its judgment that even though the doctrine of equal pay is not a fundamental right guaranteed under any particular article still it has the same weightage as one of the fundamental rights.  

All the legislation passed aimed toward only one thing and that was to create such an environment where the working class would deserve a place of respect and dignity where they are entitled to remedies and good remuneration according to the work done.