Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality

She’s the Man: “The principle of equal pay for work of equal value has been established in Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Nevertheless, women in the EU earn, on average, almost 15% less per hour than men. How can the EU guarantee fair pay for all its citizens?”

By: Stella Imo (DE)

1. Relevance of the Topic

According to article 157 of the Treaty on Functioning of the European Union (TFEU): “Each Member State shall ensure that the principle of equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or work of equal value is applied”.

Nevertheless, in 2019 women earned, on average in Europe, 14.1% less per hour than men. There are countries with a really small gender pay gap such as Romania, which recorded a difference of only 3.0 % in 2018, and those with a high one such as Estonia with 22.7 % in 2018. And the situation has not improved during the last decades. 

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the situation does not seem to become better. In contrast, it is getting worse. Overview of the gender pay gap in the EU Member States

During this time, people tend to care more about their health and livelihood, and businesses have to worry about the economy and their future. Important issues such as combating the gender pay gap do not receive the necessary attention. Due to the second wave, the tense situation and next to the lockdowns in the European countries, citizens are still worrying more about the above-mentioned points than about the gender pay gap. Also with a successful vaccination and a new normal, the politicians will first talk about how to tackle the next pandemic, what we can learn from this one and about the ongoing strive about the European budget and the behaviour of some countries. Important topics such as the gender pay gap will stay behind. 

Equal pay is not only a matter of justice but also an issue of the economy. If women earn more, they spend more money, have to pay more taxes and thus exonerate the welfare system from the burden. Thus also during the pandemic, this topic should not be swept under the carpet. 

2. Key Terms

Gender pay gap: difference in the average of the hourly earnings between women and men 
Part-time working: workers are considered to be employed part-time if they work fewer than 30 hours per week
– ‘Glass ceiling’: an invisible obstacle keeping qualified female employees from climbing the career ladder
Salary factor: the decision of employers on how much their employees earn, depends on various factors, such as experience and education
STEM sector: science, technology, engineering and mathematics; mainly occupied by men

3. Stakeholders

The European Commission serves as the executive branch of the EU. It is responsible for proposing legislation, implementing EU policies and the budget regarding ongoing topics. In general, it represents the EU’s interests. In order to combat the gender pay gap, it has passed several resolutions and action plans with guidelines and initiatives and supports EU countries to properly implement those and already existing rules. The Commission also undertook a thorough evaluation of the existing framework on equal pay for equal work or work of equal value published in March 2020.

Since the EU has only the competence to support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the Member States (MS) in this area, each state is responsible for its own legislation regarding the gender pay gap. Each country has to regulate the minimum wage and other regulations that have to do with pay. So the Member States (MS) may implement initiatives to combat the gender pay gap in their own country or follow the guidelines and recommendations given by the European Commission.

Women working all in all MS are primarily affected and the most involved in this topic. 

When employing people, companies are the ones that finally decide how much they pay their employees. This should be based on the quality of work and their individual competences, but often employers also take into account their gender.

Businesseurope is an umbrella organisation for 40 member federations which together represent 20 million companies in 34 countries. Its main task is to ensure that the interests of these companies are represented at a European level.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) represents 82 trade union organisations in 36 countries, along with 12 industry federations. It also fights for gender equality and equal pay. For ETUC trade unions have a crucial role to play in eliminating the gender pay gap as these can pressurize the companies in the MS. 

4. Conflicts

As they are less likely to study or apply for a job in the STEM sector, women are underrepresented in this field and thus in the digital sector. Here the representation of men with more than 80% is very high. Meanwhile, women are overrepresented in fields such as care, sales or education. In these social sectors, employees are often paid less than in jobs part of the digital sector.

Women often have fewer paid employment due to their traditional roles in families. In addition, they frequently work a second job as a mother, housekeeper or carer of relatives. So, they do not only earn less per hour but also do fewer hours of paid work. Here they often have to make a decision between their job and their family.

Thus women often have to decide what they prefer – a steep career or bearing children. Choosing the second option, women have career breaks and the possibility to be promoted afterwards is relatively low. To CEOs, employing a mother or a woman with the wish to become pregnant means part-time working, absence, maternity leave and little focus on the job. Thus they often do not employ or promote them. Men are promoted more often than women and thus paid better.

In consequence, management and supervisory positions are primarily occupied by men. In 2019, only 4.7% of the CEOs at Europe’s top companies were women. 

Due to a lack of wage transparency in a lot of companies, women are often unaware of their situation and the pay discrimination at work. They cannot compare their salary unless they know what their male colleagues earn.

Infographic with statistics about women and men on the labour market in the EU 

5. Measures in place & status quo

The EU directive of the European Parliament and the Council deals with the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation, it regulates equal pay and supports the member states to implement existing rules.

The Commission submitted a recommendation in 2014 containing guidance for the MS about combating the gender pay gap through transparency and asks them to implement these transparency measures.

In 2017 the European Action Plan was adopted by the European Commission and consists of 24 concrete action points. Those points contain activities to tackle the gender pay gay through reinforcing legislative and non-legislative initiatives. It was planned to put these theoretic points into practice until 2019. In 2019 the Commission had actually granted the majority of these points and is now working on implementing the rest.

In order to tackle the problem that men are the dominating gender in the digital and the STEM sector, the European Parliament passed a resolution in 2018 on empowering women and girls through the digital sector. The Members of the Parliament called upon EU countries to put in place measures to ensure the full integrity of women into the STEM sector, as well as foster education and training in those fields.

Ursula von der Leyen, the current Commission President, also states her approach to fight the gender pay gap in her political guidelines (‘my agenda for Europe’).

An implementation every citizen can notice is the so-called “Equal pay Day”. This day is symbolic for raising awareness about the still existing gender gap and for revealing this often unknown problem. From this day on, women work for free for the rest of the year, compared to their male colleagues. The Equal Pay Day differs from country to country and also changes each year

6. Food for Thought & Brain Munchies

  • What is the traditional role of women in conservative families and countries? How does this role affect the problem of the gender pay gap? 
  • Why are women less represented in the STEM sector?
  • How do the discrepancies of the gender pay gap happen in the different MS of the EU? 

7. Links for further Research

A short overview of the topic made by the European Commission, summarizes all the essential information.

Another short overview about the topic made by the European Commission answering the fundamental questions concerning this topic. 

A comprehensive website of the European Commission about the situation in the EU presenting the problems, measures and best practices – also have a look at the documents added to each page in order to have a good overview of the measures already in place, especially this one demonstrating the best practices in the Member States that could be adopted in the other states as well. 

A short video that introduces the Equal Pay Day.

A website from the EU that summarizes the situations in the different MS and the latest news about the gender pay gap in each MS