EWL’s Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer Mary Collins comments the gender pay gap for Debating Europe.
Women earn on average 14.1% less per hour than men in the EU. There is a significant gender pay gap across Europe, though the picture varies by Member State; Germany does particularly badly, with a pay gap of 20%, while in Luxembourg the gap is only 3%.
There are several reasons for this persistent wage gap; women are more likely to work in low-paid sectors such as social care and education; they are more likely to work part-time than men, and they are underrepresented in senior management positions due to the glass ceiling. Nevertheless, studies have shown that women often earn less than men even when women and men do exactly the same joband occupy equal positions.
Would greater pay transparency help? How can you even find out whether another employee earns more than you do? Talking about money and salaries is still rather a taboo topic in most European countries. As a result, women and marginalised groups often do not know they are being discriminated against. And, if they do not know there are being treated unfairly, they cannot demand equal pay from their employers or take them to court.
This is why the EU is working to improve wage transparency across Europe. The latest proposal includes measures that, among other things, include the right to know the (anonymised) pay levels for workers doing the same work, as well as gender pay gap reporting obligations for big companies. Would these measures help close the pay gap?
What do our readers think? First up, Peter is concerned about the gender pay gap in Europe and would like to see the EU promote greater transparency in relation to pay rates. Should we have a binding EU pay transparency directive? If so, how would it work?
We forwarded Peter’s comment to Maria Noichl. She is a member of the European Parliament for the S&D Group and a member of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. She is also the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the EU’s gender equality strategy. How would she respond to Peter’s comment?
“Thank you, Peter. The new strategy for gender equality will announce an EU law on this later this year. It is an important proposal, and it is a matter of implementing compulsory action against low wages for women. When information on wage levels is available, it is easy to identify gaps and discrimination. But that is not always the case at the moment.
Due to a lack of transparency, many women do not know that they are underpaid, or they cannot prove it. The Commission will therefore propose binding measures on salary transparency by the end of the year. I think that’s great! The European Parliament is waiting, and the proposal is on its way, and I think that is a good thing.”
Next up, we had a comment sent in from Effie, who argues that the pay rate for each employee is a private issue and she doesn’t think they should be published. Are there privacy issues surrounding pay transparency?
We forwarded Effie’s question to Mary Collins from the European Women’s Lobby. As Senior Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, she campaigns for equality between women and men. How would she respond to Effie’s question?
“Thank you, Effie, you raise a very important issue regarding privacy and personal information. Pay transparency is about the criteria used when putting together a job description, and how the wage level should be presented and assigned. These criteria are not – and should not be – personalised to individual employees. This is a structural question, after all.
So, everyone should be able to compare wage structures according to the position they are applying for. In this sense, transparency is important because everyone will be able to compare themselves to colleagues in similar positions. For example, if your job description or title does not match your actual job performance, you can use objective criteria to compare (what we call ‘job grading’). So, you have information, and thanks to this wage transparency you might decide to challenge the situation within your company and, if this does not succeed, you can go to court. It is also very important for unions, because they will be able to challenge wage differentials through collective bargaining.”
How does MEP Maria Noichl see it?
“Thanks Effie, for your question, but I’m on the other side. I think data protection and privacy are important, of course. My counter-question is: ‘Why is it that the income of civil servants (for example: teachers, police officers, politicians and pastors) is publicly known’?
Because their income level, their income grouping is known. And I think that’s fine. It is about the balancing act between two needs; on the one hand privacy and data protection, and on the other hand the constant breach of the promise of ‘Equal pay for equal work in the same place’. Europe made this promise to women decades ago, but it is broken every day. There has to be a sanction at last.”
Finally, Eibe thinks the gender pay gap should be left to market forces. Are market forces be enough to close the pay gap on their own? What would Mary Collins say?
“Thank you, Eibe, for your question. First of all, the market is, unfortunately, not neutral and that is reflected in pay and working conditions. In 2021, we are still living in a very gender-segregated labour market.
What does that mean? It means that women are concentrated in a limited number of sectors – the same is true for men. What we are seeing is that sectors where women work tend to have lower pay and poorer working conditions than sectors where men work. Many factors play a role here, but it is mainly due to the value given to work by women.
Hence, wage transparency will help to show the value that we as a society either give or do not give to the sectors in which women work. Women often work in people-related areas such as health and social care, and in education. I think this was very visible at the start of the pandemic, so it is important to provide a push to uncover this and close the pay gap. And legislation is just the beginning; it is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
So, to get back to your question: if we wait for market forces, which, I should say, are dominated by men and male decision-makers, pay equality will take a very, very long time. Bringing the issue out into the open will certainly help uncover these structural, deep-seated gender stereotypes that lead to the undervaluation of women’s work, and this is reflected in the persistent gender pay gap. So, the question of work of equal value is really at the heart of wage transparency. I fear that market forces have not yet recognised this.”
Should all salaries be public to close the gender pay gap? Should we have a binding EU pay transparency directive? Are there privacy issues surrounding pay transparency? Are market forces enough to close the pay gap on their own? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!