Gender campaign

Equal Pay in Portugal’s Restaurants

No matter how old, how experienced, how well educated or what the job, women are still paid less than men, all over the world. And traditional “women’s work” has always been chronically undervalued. But what if there was a tool that evaluates jobs based on the requirements of the job and not whether women or men perform them? It exists, and it’s being used in an unlikely place: behind the scenes of Portugal’s busiest restaurants.

Date issued: 08 October 2008 | Size/duration: 00:03:16


In Lisbon, locals and tourists alike have been flocking to Pasteis de Belém since 1837. Their handmade custard pies are always in demand and it is hard to find a table at this popular restaurant. Something else that’s been hard to find here: a woman waitress.

But go to the back of the restaurant, away from the public, and you’ll find the women. Maria-Olivia Pinto is a “copeira” – a kitchen assistant and cleaner, the lowest job in any Portuguese restaurant and one that has always been reserved for women.

Maria Olívia Pinto, Manager, Kitchen Assistants, Pasteis de Belém

It’s only tradition. I don’t like to do this work, but this is all we can do as women. I don’t talk about what I do, this is not an interesting job.

But Maria-Olivia is no ordinary copeira – at age 58 she’s had a lifetime of experience in the restaurant business. And she’s a manager, in charge of eight other women.

Here’s where the delicious pies get their custard filling by a team of five people. Their manager, 27 year-old Vitor Hugo Duarte is better paid than Maria-Olivia.

Vítor Hugo Duarte, Department Manager, Pasteis de Belém

I hope to stay here – I like the restaurant and I feel good in my job. Maybe one day I will learn the secret recipe for the custard pies!

Throughout Portugal’s busy restaurant sector, you’ll find the same pattern: the men are typically in front, dealing with the public, and the women are in the back, earning less money, often in lower-level jobs.

According to a study by the International Labour Organization, for every one euro a Portuguese man earns, a woman earns just 79 cents.

57 years ago, ILO Convention 100 established equal pay for work of equal value. But how do you define that in the 21st century?

Manuela Tomei, Director of the Conditions of Work and Employment Programme, ILO

Men and women who are doing the same job or similar jobs should be paid equally, but it also means that men and women who maybe are doing jobs that are different in the content but are of equal value are entitled to equal pay.

An innovative “job evaluation method” called JEM is providing new solutions for pay equity across Portugal’s restaurant sector.

Developed with the participation of the local employer’s association, the trade union and the ILO, the JEM provides a detailed profile of a worker’s skills combined with the demands of the job including physical hazards and stress.

At Pasteis de Belém the JEM has shown Vitor Domingues a new way to manage his staff.

Vítor Domingues, Managing Director, Pasteis de Belém

Nowadays whether someone is a man or woman makes no difference. It’s a stigma that no longer holds true here. Just like you see women working in construction, you now see women working as waitresses in restaurants and in pastry shops.

Custard pies at Pasteis de Belém are here to stay, but slowly the traditions of wage inequality in Portugal are being replaced with a new understanding that different work doesn’t necessarily mean different pay, especially for women.