Equal pay


The principle of equal pay is defined as the elimination of all discrimination on the grounds of sex with regard to all aspects and conditions of remuneration for the same work or for work of equal value, as defined in the Equal Pay Directive (Council Directive 75/117/EEC). In particular, where a job classification system is used for determining pay, it must be based on the same criteria for both men and women and drawn up so as to exclude any discrimination on the grounds of sex (Article 1).

Regulatory aspects

The principle of equal pay for equal work was included in the Treaties of Rome in 1957, demonstrating that this principle is fundamental to European integration.

Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) (originally Article 119 EC of the Treaty of Rome) includes an explicit commitment to equal pay for women and men, stating that equal pay without discrimination based on sex means:

· that pay for the same work at piece rates must be calculated on the basis of the same unit of measurement;

· that pay for work at time rates must be the same for the same job.

Article 157 was held to have direct effect by the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Gabrielle Defrenne v. Sabena. [1] It has since become the basis for numerous other claims made before national courts and referrals to the CJEU.

Current status

The EU Action Plan 2017–2019 ‘Tackling the gender pay gap’ has identified eight main strands of action with a general aim of improving the application of the equal pay principle.

Despite all the efforts of the EU and of individual Member States over past decades, most recent Eurostat figures (2017) put the gender pay gap at 16.0% on average in the EU, an improvement on the 17.1% recorded for 2010 and even on the 16.3% for 2016. Nevertheless, wide variations remain between the Member States, ranging from a gender pay gap of 3.5% in Romania to one of over 25.6% in Estonia.

Historical development

This latest action plan has followed a series of developments at EU level on the topic of equal pay.

Related dictionary terms

Direct effect discrimination equality between women and men equal opportunities equal treatment gender equality gender pay gap part-time work pay women in the labour market

Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.


  1. ^ CJEU (1976), Judgment of the Court of 8 April 1976, Case 43-75 .

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