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).
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.
- EUR-Lex: Treaty of Rome
- EUR-Lex: Council Directive 75/117/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the application of the principle of equal pay for women and men
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.  It has since become the basis for numerous other claims made before national courts and referrals to the CJEU.
- EUR-Lex: Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union
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.
- Eurostat: Gender pay gap statistics
- Publication: Addressing the gender pay gap: Government and social partner actions
This latest action plan has followed a series of developments at EU level on the topic of equal pay.
- 17 July 1998: The Commission adopted its code of practice on the implementation of equal pay for women and men for work of equal value. The code provides advice to the social partners on developing pay structures based on job classification and job evaluation schemes.
European Commission: A code of practice on the implementation of equal pay for work of equal value for men and women (PDF)
- 20 September 2001: The European Parliament’s resolution on equal pay noted an average wage gap of 28% between women and men in the EU at that time. It stated that, even taking into account structural differences such as age, training, occupation and career patterns, the average differential was still 15%.
European Parliament: Resolution on equal pay for work of equal value
- 1 March 2006: Launch of the EU roadmap for equality between women and men 2006–2010
EUR-Lex: Roadmap for equality between women and men (2006–2010)
- 18 July 2007: The European Commission issued a Communication on tackling the pay gap between women and men. The communication identified areas for future action to improve the situation and to approach the objectives set out in the 2006–2010 roadmap, including possible new legislation.
EUR-Lex: Communication on tackling the pay gap between women and men
- 21 September 2010: The Commission launched its Strategy for equality between women and men 2010–2015, one of the priorities of which was to promote equal pay for work of equal value in the EU.
EUR-Lex: Strategy for equality between women and men 2010–2015
- 10 February 2010: The European Parliament resolution on gender equality in the EU criticised the persistence of the gender pay gap in Europe, demanded that the principle of equal pay for equal work be better implemented and deplored the fact that the Commission had not yet made a legislative proposal on that subject.
European Parliament: Resolution of 10 February 2010 on equality between women and men in the European Union