Trying to negotiate a better salary? Here’s how to know if you’re being paid enough

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Workers are calling for salary transparency, posting their pay slips online or sharing them with colleagues.
Workers are calling for salary transparency, posting their pay slips online or sharing them with colleagues.
Tatty Welshie/Getty

Pay day is the one thing many of us most look forward to each month, but there’s an element of secrecy about those pay cheques when they arrive. They are guarded like state secrets. 

In many cases, the secrecy is what entrenched pay gaps in companies, which is why one employee decided to give his colleagues the best farewell gift when he resigned.

“When I was serving my notice in 2018, I shared my payslip with colleagues whom I was handing over my duties to. They have since negotiated better salaries,” a Twitter user by the name of Mukondeleli posted recently. 

He was responding to a radio talk show discussion in which one caller said she works at one of the Big Four banks. When it comes to annual raises, she alleged, employees are strictly prohibited from sharing what percentage increase they’re getting – even if they have the same job description and work in the same team.

“Companies hide their exploitative ways by prohibiting employees from talking about their salaries,” Mukondeleli asserted, making a similar argument to Phathuxolo Maqavana who told Drum discovering that his white colleague was earning R4 000 more than him with only six months more experience as a merchandise controller at Massmart shocked him.

The paymefairly.org founder, who took his fight with his former employer all the way to the ConCourt, where it was dismissed, has since directed his efforts towards a “promotion of equality in recruitment” bill that would make it illegal for recruiters to ask for previous payslips.

The recruitment policy of basing salary offers on previous payslips is arbitrary and discriminatory, Phathuxolo previously told Drum.

Read more | One in three jobless in SA with youth and black women bearing the brunt of rising unemployment

He believes the secrecy around salary along with employers’ insistence on negotiating job offers based on previous salaries is why in many companies there are pay gaps that essentially discriminate against women and black people.

“I was astounded as to why my colleague with the same job title, terms of employment and tenure would earn R16 500 and myself R12 500 despite my working in a department three times larger than hers and on productivity performing everything alone with a higher performance of my department,” Phathuxolo told the Sunday Times when he took his employer to the CCMA in 2017.

“I have been significantly disadvantaged and have experienced great distress due to not only being unfairly discriminated against but what I could have done for myself and family with an additional income of R4 000. 

“I have struggled with credit card debt, payment of [a student loan] and have lived on bread and eggs for two years as I could not afford to buy any other food.”

Salary databases such as Levels.fyi, Glassdoor and Blind have been credited for opening many employees’ eyes to just how underpaid they are, particularly in the tech sector, and, as the popular “pay slip thread” on Twitter has shown – it’s hard to negotiate for a fair salary when you don’t know what your peers earn.

Covid-19 lockdown-related job losses and salary cuts made many of think expecting a raise or a bonus is bold. But a lot of employees still got raises on the QT.

Many people don’t really know whether their salary is market-related. Even well-paid individuals often think they’re not being paid enough when they see what their peers are earning.

Here’s how you can ensure your salary is market-related – and the things to look out for when you apply for a new job.

FIND OUT IF IT’S A FAIR OFFER

When applying for a new job, it’s important to know the minimum and maximum salaries for that level of position in your industry.

Firstly, this allows you to make sure you aren’t being offered tool little. Secondly, it shows your prospective employer that you’re abreast of developments in your industry and capable of taking informed decisions.

Here’s how to research market-related salary scales before your interview:

Look at annual salary surveys done by companies such as Career Junction, Michael Page and PayScale. These surveys reflect the average, minimum and maximum salaries in various industries and work environments.

• Speak to recruitment consultants.

• Look at job ads online on sites such as LinkedIn or on the prospective employer’s website. Specifically look at salary offers for positions in your job grade.

• Friends and colleagues in your industry can also give you an indication of what other employers pay people in similar positions.

UNDERSTANDING YOUR SALARY PACKAGE

When comparing salaries, you must consider your full salary package.

Recruiters say many employees mistakenly view the amount paid into their bank account monthly as their salary, instead of the full package they earn. For example, they might say they earn R20 000 a month when the real value of their package is R35 000 a month.

The complete package is usually called the “cost to company” or the “guaranteed remuneration package”. This is the total amount the employer spends on you, the employee, and includes benefits and extras before deductions (such as income tax or pension fund contributions). This is usually the amount given in a job ad.

Read more | 'It’s a legacy I want to pass on to my community' – Phathuxolo Maqavana on payslip bill

FACTORS THAT COULD AFFECT YOUR SALARY

Keep the following in mind when applying for a job:

• The location. Salary offers for the same job might vary between provinces and depend on whether the position is in an urban or rural area.

• Your experience. If the position is meant for someone with 10 years’ experience and you don’t have it, you’ll be offered a lower salary than the advertised amount.

• Your job grade. If you’re just starting out, you can’t expect to be paid the same as a manager in your division.

• The employer’s resources. Salaries are also dependent on how the company is doing financially – so a large, secure corporate will be able to offer a higher salary than a startup, for instance.

• The demand for your specific skill set. Earning potential is often linked to the demand for certain skills. If there’s a limited number of candidates, many employers will offer a higher salary to attract these skills.

LOOK OUT FOR THESE BENEFITS

When applying for a position, don’t just focus on the salary amount. Consider other benefits the company might offer, such as:

• Training. This is the fastest way to expand and develop your skills, which will come in handy during salary increase negotiations.

• Flexible working hours.

• Additional paid leave. By law, permanent employees must get a certain number of days annual leave, but you can negotiate for extra paid leave days.

• Opportunities for promotion.

READ THE CONTRACT CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING 

Make sure the contract stipulates the remuneration and benefits you’ve agreed to. If there are bonuses, the contract must stipulate when they’re payable and how the amount is calculated. Your job title, job description and responsibilities must be stated clearly.

Additional sources: timeslive.co.za, businessinsider.com / Additional reporting by Letitia Watson

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