The Los Angeles City Council today approved a $12 million contract raising salaries of employes in traditionally low-paying jobs held mostly by women to the amount paid for comparable male-dominated jobs.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees reached the "comparable-worth" agreement with city officials after six months of negotiations, and the city council approved it, 12 to 1.

Mayor Tom Bradley lauded the pact as "a landmark breakthrough" in pay equity for women, reached "without the pressure of court mandates."

In 1981, the city employes' union filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination against women. As part of the settlement, the union agreed to drop that complaint.

The wage increases, to be phased in over three years, will be retroactive to April 1.

In a comparable-worth case adjudicated last year, a federal judge ordered Washington state to make retroactive salary adjustments that could cost the state more than $500 million. His decision is being appealed.

Los Angeles City Council member Joy Picus, a leading proponent of comparable worth, said the agreement was reached not because the city feared a court battle but "because it was right to do."

In April, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights rejected the idea of comparable-worth pay. Some other cities and a few states have awarded raises in accordance with the concept but, Picus said, the Los Angeles city government is the first to make such salary adjustments through collective bargaining, without an employe strike or a court or legislative mandate.

City Administrative Officer Keith Comrie said that, if the union had pursued its court case and prevailed, the city could have been forced to pay about seven years' back wages.

Comrie said the total cost of the negotiated salary increases will constitute one-half of 1 percent of the city's proposed $2.1 billion budget. He said salaries for entry-level jobs held mostly by women had been about 15 percent lower than entry-level jobs held predominantly by men.

The concept of comparable worth contends that, for example, employment as a maintenance worker, a job usually held by men, demands no greater skill or effort than is required for employment as a secretary, most of whom are women. But maintenance workers generally are paid higher wages.

Currently, Los Angeles city employes in jobs held largely by women -- clerks, secretaries and librarians -- earn an average of $1,310 a month. Those in jobs deemed comparable but usually held by men -- gardeners, warehouse workers and garage attendants -- earn $1,492 a month. The new agreement will raise monthly pay for about 3,900 female workers to $1,492.