Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The Gender Pay Gap in the European Union is real. It currently stands at 14.1 %. In some EU Member States, Austria for example, it ranges up to 19%. This means that women in the EU would need to work two extra months every single year just to make up the difference. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted this problem even more. As the pandemic hit the job market heavily, affecting lower-paid workers, in particular, it also had a significant impact on women, widening the Gender Pay Gap even more.
Generally, it can be observed that salaries often fail to reflect accurately the value work provides to the EU as a society or to its overall economy. The pandemic offers a showcase example of this distortion since many women working in the care sector continue to carry the weight of the pandemic on their shoulders without receiving fair compensation. This has to change!
In the European Parliament, we have committed our work to the fight for pay equity in the EU. As with most social policies, overreaching and long-lasting outcomes can best be tackled on a European, rather than a national level. This is why we are currently working on a legislative proposal to achieve pay equity within the European labour market means of introducing pay transparency.
The European Commission’s proposal for a Pay Transparency Directive, published in March last year, addresses binding measures on pay transparency and aims to strengthen application of the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. This includes the introduction of gender pay reporting. This legislation would enable women to compare their wages to that of their male colleagues.
Being one of the MEPs responsible for this crucial legislative initiative, I am calling for the overall application of the Directive. While the less progressive parties in the European Parliament are trying to water down the text and effectively exclude 67% of workers from the Directive, I am convinced that the Pay Transparency Directive has to be valid for all and that it should apply to all European workers. Moreover, I call for the inclusion of binding criteria in the legislative text of the Directive as well as the empowerment of trade unions and workers’ councils. Finally, a sanction mechanism against discrimination should also be included in EU legislation. To put it in a nutshell, we need a radical change in the way we view women at work!
Currently, we are negotiating with the other political groups in the EP, as we look for a common position that we can take into negotiations with the Council. For the Social-Democratic group in the Parliament, this piece of legislation represents a crucial tool to close the Gender-Pay Gap. If not, it is at least a great starting point. We do not forget that the right to equal pay for women and men for equal work or work of equal value has been a founding principle of the European Union since the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and is therefore well worthy of our commitment.
Given that a government already took brave steps to improve the chances for women in its labour market, we, the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) Committee of the European Parliament have been on a mission to Iceland. As Chair of the Committee, I had the honour to not only visit this beautiful country but also to learn about empowering strategies and policies, which could help to close the Gender Pay Gap and could serve as a blueprint for the EU.
Without a doubt, Iceland can be viewed as an outstanding example of good practices when considering the promotion of gender equality. Iceland has continuously ranked as the number one “feminist country” in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report. I, for one, am convinced that this success can be linked directly to a political measure that was introduced in 2018.
Four years ago, Iceland implemented a law on Equal Pay Certification. This piece of legislation, the first of its kind in the world, requires companies and institutions with more than 25 employees to prove that they pay men and women equally for jobs of equal value through the use of an evaluation tool. So far, some 310 companies and institutions have been granted the Equal Pay Certification, a great mark of its success.
During our mission to Iceland, my FEMM Committee colleagues and I not only engaged with members of the Icelandic Parliament and with ministry representatives and officials but also with women’s rights organisations and female leaders. These women helped shape policies in Iceland to ensure that all people can and do receive equal pay for equal work or work of equal value. Given the high academic interest in the topic, we also had the opportunity to meet with professors from the University of Iceland and to discuss their findings and research with them. The exchange proved fruitful and showed the Equal Pay Certification to be a valid and reliable tool, even if the Gender Pay Gap still exists and there is a need to introduce further measures to achieve full pay equity. At the end of the day, Iceland is looking carefully into the value of work and examining how to define it.
Overall, the mission to Iceland was truly inspiring. Our exchanges with those determined women, seeing their lifelong commitment to improving the lives of all women in Iceland, motivated me and my colleagues to continue our battle for equal chances for women in the European labour market.