EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

International Women's Day 2012

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International Women's Day 2012International Women's Day is celebrated on 8 March. The general theme for this year is Connecting girls, inspiring futures.

Women in the workforce

Increased female participation in the labour market has long been one of the main targets of the European employment strategy. Although the participation of women in the labour market has increased over the past decade in all countries across Europe, this does not mean that women and men have the same access to and role in the labour market. The labour market in 2010 remains highly segregated.  Eurofound Programme Manager Agnès Parent-Thirion is a speaker at the EP event on 8 March. See below for some highlights of the findings Agnès Parent-Thirion will present.

Why are women earning less than men on average in Europe?

Income levels graph

The gender pay gap in the European Union has remained more or less static at around 17% over the past five years, according to figures from Eurostat, the EU’s statistical body. In its latest European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS), Eurofound looked at this problem in detail and found there are a number of complex reasons behind it.

The survey of 45,000 workers in 34 European countries found that women are more likely to be in the lowest two earning bands and men are more likely to be in the highest two.

First and foremost, there are big differences in working hours between men and women; women tend to work shorter hours, as more women are in part-time work than men, while men tend to work longer hours. But more women also work in low paid occupations and in the public sector. The situation of women in the various earning bands can also be linked to the gender pay gap – the still ‘unexplained part’ of the earnings differences between male and female workers.

More information is available from the European Working Conditions Survey.

The glass ceiling remains firm

Supervisory positions graphThe proportion of women who hold supervisory positions has increased steadily over the past 20 years, rising from 26% of all supervisors in 1991 (in the then 12 Member States – the EC12) to 33% in the EU27 in 2010. The proportion of workers who have a female boss has also risen – from 24% in 2000 to 29% in 2010.

Most of these workers, however, are themselves women. In 2010, 47% of women workers said they had a female boss, compared with only 12% of men.

And this segregation appears to be increasing: while the proportion of employees with a female boss rose from 31% in 2000 to 36% in 2010 in the services sector (a heavily female-dominated area), it remained stable at 11% in manufacturing – a male-dominated sector.

For more see the European Working Conditions Survey Mapping Tool.

We present below a selection of recent Eurofound publications on women at work, gender and equality issues.

Foundation Findings - Working time in the EU
Working time is a critical element in the working conditions of all workers and is one of the main points for negotiation in collective bargaining. The issue has far-reaching consequences for competitiveness, plays a role in shaping home life, and both reflects and influences gender equality and gender roles. A key policy area implicated in working time is gender equality, stemming from the fact that men and women have very different working time patterns and that women tend to devote much more time to unpaid work in the home.

Pay developments - 2010
In this review published end 2011, pay differentials between men and women still amounted to 17.1% in the EU27 according to preliminary data from Eurostat (2009). This is a slight decrease compared with the previous year. While for most of the countries where data are available a slight decrease has been recorded, variation across Europe is still high, ranging from 5% in Italy to more than 25% in the Czech Republic.

Working conditions and industrial relations (articles)

Eurobarometer survey examines active ageing
A new Eurobarometer survey examined active ageing in the EU, including attitudes to the workplace, career end and pensions. The overall view was that the retirement age should be equal for men and women, but that individuals should be allowed to work beyond retirement age if they wished. In 29 of the 31 countries researched, between 94% and 81% agreed that people who give up their career to have/raise children should be entitled to receive part of their partner’s pension after their partner's death.

New regulation improves rights of domestic workers
A new regulation covering working conditions for domestic staff in Spain entered into force on 1 January 2012. It affects approximately 700,000 workers, most of whom are women. The new regulation puts household workers on the same level as normal employees in many respects, such as wages and working time. It also offers workers greater social protection by including them in the social security system. The unions have been positive about these measures.

Government to raise retirement age for women and men
Poland’s new government, formed in November 2011, plans several important reforms, including raising the retirement age from 65 for men and 60 for women to 67 for both. The reform is to be introduced gradually from 2013. Trade unions strongly oppose the government’s pension proposals, but employer organisations are likely to support them. All the social partners are angry, however, about the government’s plan to introduce such important reforms without consultation.

Sanctions for not closing the gender pay gap
French companies that have not taken steps to close the pay gap between women and men, through a collective agreement or unilateral action plan, may be fined up to 1% of their payroll costs from 1 January 2012. Despite much legislation on this issue over the past decade, there are still inequalities. It is hoped sanctions will remedy this in companies with 50 or more workers, which will also have to report annually on the comparative status of employment and training for both sexes.