Discussing the Gender Pay Gap in the EU

This weeks blog comes from Saoirse Gallagher. Saoirse has completed an International Commerical Law Masters with the University of Limerick and she is currently writing a dissertation. She completed a BCL at undergraduate level in NUIG. Currently working as an editor and content writer for ‘The Legal Update’, Saoirse has tutored subjects including Human Rights Law, Comparative Legal Systems and Introduction to Lawyering.

According to Eurostat, the current gender pay gap in the European Union stands at 14.1%. While the concept of equal pay was instilled in EU legislation via the 1957 Treaty of Rome (Art.15 TFEU), 60 years later equal pay still does not exist between men and women. The most recent statistics from the European Commission have revealed that in the present day, female EU citizens earn 86 cents to every euro earned by their male counterparts.

Many causative factors attribute to the Gender Pay Gap. Jill Rubery, an employment law lecturer has accredited the existing pay gap to gender stereotypes that still exist within the workforce. First, Rubery highlights that the current minimum wage in the EU is relatively low, and a lot of young people and women are employed in sectors that encompass ‘weakly run sectors and companies’. Women in less developed EU countries are still falling into gender-typical roles, where women may be the caregiver and the male the primary breadwinner. This leads to fewer opportunities for women in the labour force, which results in women participating in part-time work, furthering the pay gap. Rubery ascertains that a solution to this problem would be to emphasise education for women in developing EU countries and provide more opportunities to women across all sectors to discourage a pay gap.

Another contributing factor is the lack of pay transparency within the EU. A report published by the EU Commission in 2014 addressed this issue, and although there have not been substantive developments in this area, the report encouraged member states to allow its employees to demand gender-disaggregated information from employers on pay levels for equivalent jobs. Alternatively, employers could be required to provide all employees with regular information on average pay disaggregated by gender and position. In response to the recommendations of the EU Commission, Germany enshrined a right to information in 2017 for the benefit of employees (Section 10 Entgelttransparenzgesetz = Pay Transparency Law).

The Covid-19 Pandemic has also adversely affected the workforce and pay equality. The global health and social workforce consist primarily of women (70%), who also receive minimum wage in precarious conditions. Furthermore, the global number of women laid off due to the pandemic induced recession is 1.8 times greater than that of men. The pandemic has also distorted the true reflection of pay statistics for the last two years, which will hopefully be more coherent in the future.

Despite the negativity, there are active efforts by the individual member states to combat the aforementioned issues. In Ireland,  Roderic O’Gorman T.D. announced his intention to bring forward a strengthened Gender Pay Gap Information Bill in early 2021. While this is aspirational, Mcloughlin argues that this proposed Gender Pay Gap Bill will take time to reach its full potential due to the sheer amount of small business in Ireland, he further notes that at present only 57% of employees would be represented in Gender Pay gap related data. The bill is currently at the report stage and the main amendments to be proposed include: 1) providing a more comprehensive definition of a public body to ensure that the provisions of the Bill will apply individually to all public bodies 2) addressing enforcement issues in the legislation, including by providing expanded power to IHREC to make an application to the High Court for an enforcement order where warranted, and 3) requiring a review of the functioning of the legislation before the 4th anniversary of its commencement.

On a union-wide level, on the 4th of March this year, the EU Commission presented a proposal on pay transparency and a goal of affording both men and women equal pay for equal work. The President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, presented the proposal and stated that ”Women must know whether their employers treat them fairly. And when this is not the case, they must have the power to fight back and get what they deserve.” The initiative tackles various pay transparency issues such as joint pay assessment, reporting on gender pay gap and right to information for employees. It also aims to provide compensation for victims of pay discrimination which includes putting the Burden of Proof on the employer, creating Equality bodies and workers representatives and impose fines on those in breach of equal pay legislation.

Pay equality among EU citizens is an achievable goal, but not in the near future. A report devised by The European Trade Union Confederation last year estimated that the pay gap between genders within the EU will not be rectified until at least 2104. The report estimated that in Germany and Italy, the pay gap will not be closed until at least 2074. Whereas Belgium is estimated to enjoy equal pay by 2028. There should be a multilateral interest in solving this issue. The European Trade Union Confederation believes that the only efficient way to solve the issue is to implement binding regulations to solve the pay transparency issue and considering recent events, it may be the only way forward.


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