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Tackling the pay gap between men and women

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Tackling the pay gap between men and women

The pay gap between men and women in the European Union (EU) continues to exist. In this Communication, the Commission examines the causes for this situation, lays out a number of ways in which to end this inequality and calls upon all interested parties to harness their efforts in tackling it.

ACT

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 18 July 2007, entitled Tackling the pay gap between women and men [COM(2007) 424 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

The principle of equal pay for men and women has been a part of the Treaty of Rome since 1957. Article 157 of the Treaty stipulates that the Member States must ensure that the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value is applied. Furthermore, reducing the pay gap is one of the objectives of the European Strategy for Growth and Jobs.

In practice, the situation is still problematic. Within the Union, women continue to earn 16.2% less on average than men per hour of work (Eurostat 2011), despite evidence of significant advances in terms of training and professional experience. These figures demonstrate the continued existence of the pay gap between women and men, which so far is closing only at a very slow pace.

The majority of the causes linked to this gap cannot be attributed to objective criteria. Women achieve a higher pass-rate at school and account for the majority of graduates in all the Member States. Why, therefore, do they not achieve better conditions on the labour market and why is their productive potential not fully exploited?

The European Commission alone cannot tackle the pay gap. For that reason, the efforts of all the interested parties will have to be harnessed, beginning with the Member States and the social partners, which together hold most of the power to make decisions and take action.

A complex and persistent problem

Differences in pay can be explained by a series of criteria such as:

  • individual characteristics (age, level of education, experience acquired);
  • factors connected with the job (profession, type of contract or working conditions);
  • aspects directly linked to the company (economic sector, size).

There may also be instances of open discrimination in which a woman receives less pay than her male colleague for the same job.

On the other hand, the pay gap may also reflect inequalities linked to the labour market:

  • horizontal segregation: women are concentrated in a much smaller number of sectors and professions than men, and these sectors and professions are generally less highly valued and less well paid;
  • vertical segregation: women are employed mainly in less well-paid jobs and encounter greater obstacles to their professional advancement (only one third of women in companies within the EU);
  • traditions and stereotypes: these influence particularly the choice of education courses, the evaluation and classification of professions and also employment patterns;
  • the difficulty of balancing work and private life, which often, for women, leads to part-time working and career breaks, with a negative effect on women’s careers.

Statistics show that the pay gap increases with age, the level of educational attainment and length of service: wage differences exceed 30 % in the 50 to 59 age bracket (as opposed to 7 % in those under 30) and exceed 30 % amongst graduates, whilst this figure is only 13 % amongst workers who have completed their secondary school studies. Lastly, they may be as high as 32 % amongst workers with more than 30 years’ experience in a company, whereas the pay gap is only 22 % amongst workers with between 1 and 5 years’ service.

Tackling the inequality in pay between women and men

In order effectively to help reduce the pay gap, the Commission is drawing attention to the following measures:

  • improved application of existing legislation, accompanied by awareness-raising campaigns;
  • fully exploiting the European Strategy for Growth and Jobs, particularly via European financial support in all its forms (Structural Funds);
  • promoting wage equality amongst employers, essentially appealing to their sense of social responsibility;
  • supporting the exchange of good practices at Community level and involving the social partners in that process.

Background

The elimination of the gender pay gap is a core element of European policy on gender equality and is targeted by many of the Union’s legislative instruments and guidelines:

  • legislation relating to the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in terms of work and employment;
  • the Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015, which follows the Roadmap on the same subject (2006-2010);
  • the European Pacts for Gender Equality adopted by the Council in 2006 and 2011; etc.

RELATED ACTS

Commission Recommendation 2014/124/EU of 7 March 2014 on strengthening the principle of equal pay between men and women through transparency [Official Journal L 69 of 08.3.2014].

The recommendation provides guidelines for the Member States to assist them with improving their implementation of the principle of equal pay between men and women. The proposed measures are the following:

  • promote salary transparency;
  • reinforce the role of national organisms responsible for promoting equality, with respect to pay discrimination;
  • increase control over the implementation of the principle of equal pay and of measures through which to combat pay discrimination;
  • carry out awareness campaigns regarding the principle of equal pay.

Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the application of Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation (COM(2013) 861 final) [Not published in the Official Journal].

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 21 September 2010, Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015 [COM(2010) 491 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation ( OJ L 204 of 26.7.2006, p. 23 ).

Last updated: 10.06.2014

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