Many activities in Brussels that take place around International Women’s Day are focussing on gender equality. As demonstrated by the European Commission’s commitment to increase the number of women on corporate boards and income transparency, equal opportunity policy tops the Commission President’s list of priorities.
The Covid-19-crisis has exacerbated the world’s inequalities, for example between countries at the Centre and the Global South, as clearly proven by the unequal distribution of vaccines. However, inequalities between men and women have also deepened in many areas. This stems from the distribution of paid and unpaid (care) work as well as from the height of salary received. The Equal Pay Day makes this visible: it symbolises the additional days, women are working to earn the same as men do. The EU-average in 2021 was 51 days. The situation in Austria has slightly improved in 2022 – where Equal Pay Day fell on 15 February, six days earlier than the previous year. However, Austria together with Latvia, Estonia and Germany is EU-wide at the bottom of the list: women in these countries have to work 66 additional days to earn the same as men. In 2021, Luxemburg, Rumania, Slovenia and Italy performed best within the EU. In these countries, women have to work only 5 additional days to earn the same as men.
With regard to Austria, AK President Renate Anderl highlighted that the high rate of women working part-time, as well as the lower value of so-called “female occupations” would explain for more than half of the difference in wages. Almost half of the pay gap is the result of pure discrimination. The Austrian example demonstrates quite vividly that the high level of collective agreements alone is unable to close the pay gap. What is needed is a combination of various measures, with more income transparency being one of them.
Lack of transparency with regard to pay
Closing the pay gap in the EU is only advancing at snail’s pace: the differences remain considerable and will last for decades if the current speed continues. The EU Gender Equality Strategy for 2020-2025 provides for a number of measures to eliminate the gender-specific pay gap. One of them is the proposed Pay Transparency Directive that the European Parliament is currently debating. It demands the right to equal pay for equal or equivalent work. Employers shall be obliged to publish a report on the pay gap. This makes it easier for employees to demand compensation. AK welcomes the right to information, as a lack of transparency is one of the biggest obstacles to close the pay gap. However, the threshold of 250 employees, from which the employers’ obligations shall apply, is too high. This would exempt many companies from this obligation, not only in Austria. A step in the right direction is the reversal of the burden of proof in agreement with existing jurisdiction. If employers do not fulfil the obligations set out in proposed Directive, they bear the full burden of proof, without employees having to prove the alleged discrimination. The Member States already achieved a general orientation in the Council in December 2021, thereby defining their negotiating mandate. Now it is the European Parliament’s turn to vote on the report.
Activities around International Women’s Day
With regard to International Women’s Day, the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM), held its annual inter-parliamentary meeting on 3 March 2022. This year’s title was " An ambitious future for Europe's women after Covid-19: mental load, gender equality in teleworking and unpaid care work after the pandemic”. However, individual groups also used the day to highlight gender inequalities. The Left in the European Parliament – GUE/NGL, for example, organised a two-day “Feminist Forum”, focusing on women’s health and reproductive rights.
It appears as if at last some progress will be made regarding a Directive, which has been blocked for years. The French Presidency revived the Directive proposal on “Women on Boards” from 2012 in order to achieve an agreement in the Council at last.