Equal pay in collective bargaining examined

In January 2003, Greece's Research Centre for Gender Equality published a study on 'Equal pay between men and women in collective bargaining'. The main aim of the report is to examine the content of collective agreements and identify those that either foster or hinder equal pay. It finds that the content of collective agreements in Greece is rather poor in this area, and that collective bargaining does not work as a measure to promote equal pay. However, there are examples of collective agreements that have contributed to reducing the gender pay gap.

In October 2002, the Research Centre for Gender Equality (KETHI) conducted a study on 'Equal pay between men and women in collective bargaining'. The aim of the study - published in January 2003 - is twofold; on the one hand, to describe the general framework surrounding equal pay between men and women; and, on the other, to research and analyse the content of collective agreements (based on an examination of 154 sectoral and occupational collective agreements) and identify those that either foster or hinder equal pay.

General conclusions

KETHI states that, despite the fact that a legal framework which is sufficient and fully harmonised with international and EU law governs equal pay in Greece, in practice there is an important gap between women's and men's pay. Within this framework, progress has been made, mainly in the last five years, both in terms of the situation of women in the labour market and of their pay. However, equal pay is a difficult objective to achieve, while the means as well as the barriers are many and not only found within collective agreements.

The study finds collectively agreed regulations that still produce direct discrimination to the detriment of women, both in their free access to certain specialised positions (such as electrical technicians) and in the concentration of women in low qualified jobs with low wages (for example in the hotels sector and old people's homes in Athens). However, discrimination in general is usually indirect or is found outside the texts of collective agreement texts.

The introduction of a 'single pay table' in collective agreements has contributed to eliminating direct discrimination to the detriment of women, as for example in the banking sector. Since 1982, the application in banking of this single pay table, regardless of gender, has prevented discrimination on the basis of gender in sectoral and company collective agreements. Thus, as has been mentioned above, discrimination as a whole is indirect or, for example, caused by the fact that certain groups of workers (such as cleaners, the majority of whom are women) may not be integrated in the pay table. One important issue is that military service, which is compulsory for men, is counted as time spent in employment for the purpose of calculating service- and experience-related payments, which places women at a disadvantage, especially given that time off for maternity and childcare is treated in a less favourable way by collective agreements.

Within this framework, the following factors are suggested by KETHI as the most important in interpreting the present pay gap between women and men:

  • the development of individualised remuneration systems (based on performance or merit), which often express unilateral decisions made by management and tend to favour men (despite the fact that is may be questionable on the basis of EU law);
  • the fact that, in general, collective agreements do not regulate such individualised remuneration systems or address the evaluation of employees;
  • the intense gender-based occupational segregation within economic sectors, occupations and specialisms, particularly vertical occupational segregation and the concentration of women in low-qualification and low-responsibility jobs, which is a particularly detrimental factor working against the women's professional and pay development. An equally important factor is the predominance of women in 'atypical' jobs, particularly for part-time work and for temporary jobs. Apart from the low pay and often reduced labour and social rights associated with atypical work, collective agreements do not necessarily cover these jobs;
  • the interruption of women's professional activity due to family responsibilities, which is not accompanied by mechanisms for the subsequent reintegration of women in the company or in the labour market;
  • violations of the relevant legislation, particularly in terms of the combination of work and family life, as well as of the terms of collective agreements. The fact that the penalties foreseen in the event of non-compliance with the law are for the most part administrative and inadequate is seen as very important;
  • existing social prejudices with respect to the sharing of roles between women and men both at work and at home, presenting the father as the breadwinner and the mother as a second-level contributor to the family income; and
  • the low level of female participation in decision-making, as seen in management bodies and posts, trade union organisations etc.

Examples of best practice

The report concludes that the content of collective agreements in Greece is rather poor regarding the issue of equal pay between men and women, and that collective bargaining does not work as a measure to promote equal pay. However, there are examples of collective agreements that have greatly contributed to reducing the pay gap, promoting equal pay directly or indirectly, to a greater or lesser extent. Regulations that, in other countries, may be considered poor are very significant in the Greek context. KETHI classifies the examples of good practices that it has identified into two groups

The first group consists of collective agreements containing special regulations and positive actions in order to prevent, reduce or even eliminate pay discrimination to the detriment of women. Examples include:

  • the 1975 National General Collective Agreement, which removed the differentiation between male and female blue-collar workers according to which women’s wages were lower than men’s for the same work or work of equal value;
  • at sectoral level, the collective agreements signed in 1981 and 1984 in banking, which are regarded as very important. The 1981 agreement brought up for the first time the issue of eliminating direct discrimination between the genders related to developing a professional career. Paragraph 6 stated that: 'Workers evolve professionally in an equal manner, regardless of gender, from the moment in which they are typically and substantially qualified, according to the rules of the organisation or the regulations in each bank.' As for indirect pay discrimination, the 1984 banking agreement addressed two issues - the inclusion of cleaners in the pay scale and the assimilation of typists, so that they could enjoy equal opportunities for professional development;
  • the 1999 national sectoral agreement for technical workers in mining, whose paragraph on the determination of the basic minimum wage states, amongst other points, that 'women doing the same job as (performing the same work as) men have the right to the same wage as them'; and
  • along the same lines, at national occupational level, the 1998 agreement for food technicians provided that 'men and women doing similar jobs are remunerated with the same salary and have the same rights and obligations within the framework of this clause'.

The second group of agreements provide for indirect action, particularly by including rules that contribute to addressing the problem of indirect pay discrimination. These agreements may, according to the report, have this effect regardless of the express will of the parties (ie there are agreements in which the gender dimension appears without either party having a 'feminist' aim). Examples of agreements which remove pay conditions that may discriminate indirectly against women include the following:

  • in the 1998 national sectoral agreement for foreign airlines, length of service is calculated independently of whether the work has been carried out continuously or in an interrupted way. More specifically, it provides that the increment for every three years service (5% of pay) will be paid after three years of either continuous or interrupted work in the same airline in Greece or abroad. In 1989, the same agreement had ceased to require that the relevant of service should be with the same employer; and
  • the 1984 national occupational agreement for engineers in the public sector, public law legal entities and local and regional administration bodies provides that the service-related increment of 5% will be paid after either continuous or interrupted work as an engineer.

There are also agreements that create conditions to promote equality in general, including equal pay, for example by establishing equality committees. Examples include the following:

  • in the 1997-8 national sectoral agreement for banking sector (GR9706117N), a sectoral committee on equality is given particular importance, and is oriented towards positive action (eg elimination of discrimination in pay and in company training);
  • the 1997 company collective agreement for the Emboriki Bank established a company committee for equality, with the role of issuing proposals for the gradual elimination of inequalities which have accumulated with respect to the professional development of women; and
  • in the 1997 company collective agreement for the Agrotiki Bank (which signed a company agreement for the first time in 1996), the parties committed themselves to examining the practice of awarding promotion to men in respect of the time they have spent in military service (see above), which was established in the 1984 banking sectoral agreement. The agreement also states that benefits cannot be interrupted during time off for maternity or sick leave during pregnancy. Furthermore, the staff trade union committed itself to presenting a proposal to integrate cleaners into the pay scale and it was agreed to give them seven more days of annual leave.

Finally, a number of agreements express the intention of the parties to contribute to the promotion of equal opportunities (though the results in practice are not always known), Notable examples are the National General Collective Agreements of 1993 (when the parties committed themselves to promoting equal treatment and equal opportunities between men and women, including in relation to pay) and 1996, and most of the national sectoral collective agreements signed in banking during the 1990s.


There is no previous research that has exclusively addressed the issue of equal pay in collective bargaining in Greece. In this context - and although collective agreements at enterprise level are excluded from the main analysis in the KETHI study - the findings of the report's analysis of approximately 90% of all sectoral and occupational agreements in Greece are, without doubt, a useful tool for practitioners and researchers who deal with gender equality. Given that the issue of promoting equal pay through collective bargaining has not, at least until now, been given special consideration by the social partners, the abovementioned examples of good practice are particularly important. The content of Greek agreements in this area seems rather poor in comparison with that of collective agreements in the other EU Member States, and regulations that in other countries would be seen to offer the minimum are extraordinarily significant in the Greek context. (Eva Soumeli, INE/GSEE-ADEDY)

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