On the occasion of the EU-wide Gender Pay Day on 3 November 2017, AK EUROPE reported that unfortunately hardly any progress has been made towards more gender equality in Europe. From a statistical point of view, since this day, women in the EU have been working without payment, as they are still being paid less than their male counterparts for the same work. Mid-November, the European Commission presented its Action Plan to combat the gender pay gap.
The equality of men and women has been an objective of the Common Europe for over 60 years and is a fundamental right, which has been enshrined in the EU Treaties. A Eurobarometer survey, which was published parallel to the Action Plan, shows the significance, the European population attaches to this principle: 90 % of Europeans regard it as unacceptable that women are paid less than men and 64 % support income transparency as a means to bring about change.
However, the gap between wish and reality could hardly be wider! As the AK reported on the occasion of the EU-wide Equal Pay Day, at 16.3 %, the pay gap between men and women remains constantly high and in all other areas of life too, progress towards more gender equality is very sluggish. Mid-November, the European Commission presented the EU Action Plan 2017-2019 to combat the Gender Pay Gap. The Action Plan includes a package which prioritizes 8 areas for action, that are aimed at the equality of women in the labour market.
The principle of equal pay is already enshrined in the European Treaties and the EU Directive on Gender Equality provides legally binding: “For the same work or for work to which equal value is attributed, direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of sex with regard to all aspects and conditions of remuneration shall be eliminated”. However, additional efforts are required to ensure that this principle is implemented in practice without exception. Therefore, the Commission adopted way back in 2014 a recommendation on more pay transparency.
An evaluation of this non-binding recommendation shows that national measures are insufficient. A third of the Member States did not implement any of the proposed initiatives; many countries did so only very insufficiently. Hence, the Commission is now considering making the 2014 recommendations legally binding. In concrete terms this might involve: the right of employees to information on wage and salary levels; regular reporting by employers on wages and salaries, itemised according to groups of employees or positions and the precise specification of the term 'equal work'. It is also being considered to impose more serious sanctions in case of infringements and to improve compensation for disadvantaged employees.
More pay transparency could significantly contribute to ensure that women’s right regarding equal pay for equal work are implemented. As the Eurobarometer survey has shown, the awareness among employees concerning the Gender Pay Gap is paradox: whilst 69 % believe that women in their country are payed less for equalwork, only 33 % think that this is happening at their own place of work. More income transparency due to a right to information or mandatory reporting by employers itemised according to groups of employees or positions could make a contribution to overcome the imbalance in respect of wages and salaries. Almost half of the women say that they intend to speak to their superior should they would learn of any gender-specific discrimination; 30 % would contact their trade union representative and 15 % would even seek legal support. This would make a major contribution to ensure that in practice equal pay is being paid for equal work!
Apart from that, the Commission plans to take supportive action in seven further areas, which fall in the responsibility of the Member States, or to contribute to combatting the Gender Pay Gap by raising awareness. These include in particular the underpayment in sectors with a high share of women, the glass ceiling and the unequal distribution of care work.
The AK will continue to closely monitor all these initiatives and carry on to report on these. The fight against the Gender Pay Gap demands speedy progress: if the current speed continues, the pay gap between men and women would only be closed at the start of the next millenium! From the AK’s point of view, it is now vital that the key points of the Action Plans are followed by concrete deeds and that the Commission, together with the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers as co-legislator, within the scope of their competencies, get concrete improvements off the ground.