Commission’s equal pay proposal a “positive step forward”

MEPs have welcomed plans to plug Europe’s gender pay gap.
Source: European Commission Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

05 Mar 2021

MEPs from across the political divide have welcomed newly proposed EU rules which aim to plug the gender pay gap. They agreed that the Commission’s proposals are a “positive step forward” in the fight for gender equality.

This comes after the Commission on Thursday released a proposal on "Strengthening the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between men and women through pay transparency".

The aim of the draft directive is to achieve more equal pay between women and men and will apply to all employers with more than 250 employees. The Commission said that pay differences between men and women remain too high: on average, women in the EU earn 14.1 percent less than men in comparable positions.

Postponed three times after pressure from business and employers’ organisations, the draft law includes binding, legislative measures that will apply to all employers, in both private and public sectors. It proposes sanctions for non-compliance and compensation to those affected. Companies will be obliged to report on their gender pay gap and redress any “unwarranted imbalances”.

“Women currently earn 14.1 percent less than men across the EU on average. While that represents a decrease in recent years, we still have a long way to go” Frances Fitzgerald (IE, EPP)

Workers will have the right to receive information about pay, and recruiters will be forbidden from asking candidates about their current pay to “avoid reproducing gendered structures”. Under the proposal, employers of over 250 people would be required to make information on any pay gap between male and female workers publicly available to all.

If a pay difference of five percent or more is identified between male and female colleagues doing the same work or work of equal value, the employer would be obligated to carry out a joint pay assessment and take action to rectify that pay gap. Employers must also provide a description of the “gender-neutral criteria” used to define their pay and career progression to all workers.

MEP Frances Fitzgerald, EPP spokesperson on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, welcomed the move, saying, “Women currently earn 14.1 percent less than men across the EU on average. While that represents a decrease in recent years, we still have a long way to go.”

Improving gender equality by 2050 would boost EU GDP by between €1.95 trillion-€3.15 trillion, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). The EIGE says the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value has been enshrined in the EU Treaties since 1957 but the gap has barely declined over the last decade.

“Employers do have a responsibility to pay staff fairly and equally for equal work, regardless of gender. This can only be a positive step forward for both the public and private sectors” Dennis Radtke (DE, EPP)

Fitzgerald said the proposal “provides a solid framework for tackling the gender pay gap and will do so by ensuring that no employer has the right to ask for a pay history when someone applies for a job, and that a pay level or range should be available to a job applicant.”

EPP spokesman on Employment and Social Affairs, Dennis Radtke said, “While the full details of the proposed directive are yet to be scrutinised by Parliament, its core goals of achieving equality and fairness are certainly to be welcomed. Employees are entitled to equal treatment. We must take the unique circumstances of small and medium-sized businesses and the variety of existing labour market models in the EU into account.”

He continued, “The role of the social partners in this process will of course be crucial in this regard. However, employers do have a responsibility to pay staff fairly and equally for equal work, regardless of gender. This can only be a positive step forward for both the public and private sectors."

S&D member Heléne Fritzon, her group’s responsible for a new social Europe of equality, cohesion, and strong rights, said, “A large majority of EU countries have no legal framework on pay transparency. With newly proposed pay transparency measures, it will be possible to identify the possible gender bias in pay structure or insufficient remuneration. The new measures will allow workers to detect pay discrimination and claim their rights. This will benefit all workers, not just women.”

“The new measures will allow workers to detect pay discrimination and claim their rights. This will benefit all workers, not just women” Heléne Fritzon (SE, S&D)

She added, “However, to close the gender pay gap, it will also require fighting gender stereotypes, in schools already, and increasing women’s participation in the labour market including in sectors dominated by men, like digital economy.”

Renew Europe MEP Samira Rafaela, her group’s coordinator of the Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee, said, “Enforcing equal pay is a cornerstone of building a social and fair Europe. Access to information on pay is crucial if we want to combat pay discrimination and accomplish EU’s core principle of equal pay for equal work. This proposal is another very welcome piece in the puzzle of closing the gender pay gap.”

Dragoș Pîslaru, Renew Europe’s coordinator of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee, added, "When it comes to workers and their rights, pay transparency is a must for Renew Europe. Today, men in the EU earn, on average, 16 percent more than women for the exact same work. We welcome the proposal by the European Commission as it means moving forward in the right direction, in the direction signalled by our treaties and the values the EU stands for; it means fighting for equality between men and women."

Further reaction came from Kira Peter-Hansen, Greens/EFA coordinator in the Employment and Social Affairs Committee, who said, "This legislation is an important step in the fight for equal pay for women and men. By proposing a directive for companies in all Member States to publish data on the gender pay gap, the EU is establishing itself as a major political player in the fight against gender discrimination.”

“Enforcing equal pay is a cornerstone of building a social and fair Europe… This proposal is another very welcome piece in the puzzle of closing the gender pay gap” Samira Rafaela (NL, RE)

She continued, "In the coming months, we will work to strengthen this proposal in the Parliament in order to remedy the injustice of gender discrimination: Equal pay for equal work must be the rule inside the EU and sanctions must be applied in case of non-respect of this fundamental right."

Also, on Thursday, MEPs discussed women’s role in leading the fight against the pandemic, in an interparliamentary meeting. Parliament’s president David Sassoli told the meeting, ‘‘The pandemic has not only increased inequalities that already existed, it is also likely to wipe out decades of achievements.”

He added, “Measures adopted to contain the spread of the virus have often exacerbated the gender divide. To make sure women’s lives take a step forward, not backwards, we have to achieve genuine equality. It is time to end the rhetoric and to forge ahead.’’

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