The council of ministers approved the terms of reference of the Gender Equality Commissioner on Wednesday, so as to better promote equality objectives in all government bodies. The aim was to strengthen and upgrade gender equality issues, said President Nikos Christodoulides, in his message to mark International Women’s Day.

Commissioner Josie Christodoulou, said that ensuring equality between women and men was a key priority of the government and she had already spoken to the labour minister regarding the pay and pension gap, which were among her office’s priorities. They had already worked out solutions to eliminate the gender gap in pensions, she said, while another priority was to carry out a joint assessment, concerning the gender pay gap, with social partners.

These are all commendable objectives and priorities and it would be interesting to see data about gender inequality in pay and pensions. Once they have established this perhaps the government should also look at the inequality in pay and pensions between private and public sector workers. There is much greater inequality between these two sectors in terms of pay and pensions than between genders.

Why, for example is the starting wage of a nurse in a public hospital more than 50 per cent higher than that of a nurse in a private hospital? They do the same job, even though the former does less work (there are four times as many nurses per bed in public hospitals) and it is not because public hospitals are more profitable or pay below the market rate. It is because public sector unions always get what they want from politicians who are also beneficiaries of this institutionalised inequality.

Public employees receive retirement bonuses from the state, without contributing anything from their wages and state pensions much higher than private sector employees on similar wages, who had contributed more to the social insurance fund. In the past public employees contributed nothing towards their pensions, which were still higher than the pensions of private sector workers that contributed to the social insurance fund all their life.

If the new government is so committed to ending the inequality in pay and pensions between men and women, for the sake of consistency, it should also look at the staggering inequality in pay and pensions between public and private sector workers. Gender inequality must be addressed and we all wish the commissioner every success in her efforts to do so, but there is a much bigger issue of pay and pension inequality, which is not gender-based, that has been swept under the carpet by all governments. Hopefully the new government will find the resolve to address it, given its commitment to fight inequality and promote social cohesion.