On International Women's Day a look at low paying jobs for women and the gender pay gap.

Almost eighty years ago, 146 women shirt makers died in a fire in crowded loft on New York's Lower East Side. The tragedy led to a revolt against the appalling sweatshop conditions in the garment industry and it consolidated the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

International Women's Day now commemorates the struggles of those American women workers for decent working conditions and a living wage.

'Today Tonight' examines the progress, if any, has been made towards equality of pay for men and women.

Krishna Patel, Deputy Director of the United Nations (UN) Institute Advancement of Women, tells Una Claffey that women have become aware of their economic and legal rights. Evidence of this change in women's social understanding of themselves can be seen in the dramatic increase in the number of women working outside the home. Society has not yet adjusted to the rising number of women in the workplace resulting in inequality of pay between men and women. According to Krishna Patel, there are no counties where men and women are paid equally for the same work. 

While advances have been made, the pay and conditions for thousands of women in Ireland today are far from satisfactory.

Women tend to be concentrated in low paid, part-time jobs with no labour rights or employment protection. 

Una Claffey visits the Kelso Laundry in Rathmines, which employs eighty people, mostly women. 

Laundries in good times, as well as today have always been noted for employing mostly women and paying very low wages.

Kelso employee Pat McCarney, who started work in the laundry business at the age of 14, describes the unpleasant conditions at the laundry. By the age of twenty, Pat McCarney had reached her maximum potential earnings and now struggles to make ends meet. After twenty six years, she takes home £98 for a forty hour week and has only ever had one holiday. 

John McKinney, Managing Director at Kelso Laundry, outlines the wage structure at the laundry saying that the wage levels are largely determined by what their customers are willing to pay. A wage increase for employees would require a price increase to customers. While his staff work for a take home pay of £98 a week, Mr McKinney says he would not be willing to work for such a low rate of pay. He points to the high rates of taxation as a cause for the low take home pay of his staff. 

The domestic service industry is not the only industry in which women are paid low wages. 

Innovation Display Mannequins makes and repairs models for shop window displays. The company is currently in dispute with employees over health and safety conditions and low pay. Employee Noeleen O'Callaghan takes home £70 for a thirty seven and a half hour week, for work which she considers to be relatively skilled. Noeleen O'Callaghan and her colleagues have now been on strike for fourteen weeks. She describes her life living on such a low wage. 

It means literally just existing.

Noeleen O'Callaghan says that low pay for women is rampant and is critical of the ManPower system of employment. 

Patricia O'Donovan, Equality Officer with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), says that the problem of low pay amongst women workers is widespread and scandalous forcing many workers into poverty. Research carried out at University College Dublin (UCD) shows that, 

Six out of ten women in employment are in the low pay category.

In addition to this, there is a huge gap between what men and women earn, with women still earning sixty per cent of the average male earnings. 

There's a huge gap in terms of what men and women earn.

Patricia O'Donovan believes that employers must be held accountable for the treatment of their employees and is also seeking the establishment of a statutory minimum wage. 

A 'Today Tonight' report broadcast on 8 March 1988. The reporter is Una Claffey and the presenter is John Bowman.