EWL News

Equal Pay: dream or reality in 2018?

[Brussels, 4 January 2018] As Iceland celebrates the implementation of its new law on equal pay, i.e. public and private companies with 25 employees, must prove that they are paying women and men equally, we are reminded that as another year passes, equal pay between women and men has not yet been achieved anywhere in Europe or in the world. An extraordinary reality as we broach a new year.

Yet, equal pay was the first EU gender equality legislation adopted over 40 years ago. According to experts, it could take 100 years to achieve equal pay if the pace of change continues at its current speed. The average gender pay gap in the EU stands at 16% and, on the other side of coin, the gender pension gap is a startling 40%, close to the average life-long-earning gap between women and men (40%). So, what is the problem?

The European Commission’s recently launched EU Action Plan 2017-2019 Tackling the Gender Pay Gap, spells out the persistent barriers and proposes eight areas of action. Among the barriers, gender segregated labour-markets in which only 18% of women and 15% of men work in mixed occupations, women’s work in sectors where they are concentrated is valued at a lower rate than those where men are concentrated. Persistent gender stereotypes, lack of work-life balance options and expectations towards women to be the prime care givers which leads to part-time and increasingly precarious working pay and conditions, a staggering gender pension gap and higher rates of poverty as they age.

Moreover, the gender pay gap does not affect all women the same way: race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, level of education, location and other social or personal circumstances of women may affect the parity in earnings with men for work of equal value to different extents.[1]

The Equal Pay Standard law of Iceland is badly needed in the EU. While it is not a magic wand, it does compel employers to prove that women and men are being paid equally and there are sanctions if in breach of the law. But we need to move a step further. In a highly gender segregated labour-market, the issue of ‘work of equal value’ must be addressed across different sectors (cross industry) so that a broader interpretation can be applied to cover differences in pay for work which may not appear comparable from the outset but is performed in sectors that are highly gendered in practice. We welcome therefore the Commission’s proposal to clarify the notion of work of equal value, as part of its Action Plan, and call for a swift move to amend the legislation in this direction. We also welcome the initiative of the University Women of Europe – a member of EWL – to file a collective complaint to the Council of Europe on equal pay and are very pleased that their complaint has been received positively.

For equal pay, will 2018 be a happy New Year?

[1] http://eige.europa.eu/resources/wcms_371804.pdf cited in the Opinion of the Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men on the Gender Pay Gap, December 2017, (publication forthcoming)

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