Gender pay equity in Europe

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Date of Publication: 29 January 2002

Eva Soumeli and Kristine Nergaard

There are still significant wage differentials between women and men across the EU and Norway. This remaining pay gap is of increasing concern to policy-makers and women themselves at both national and European level. The issue is especially topical at present, in the light of the EU's European employment strategy and its focus on equal opportunities. This comparative study reviews: the general development of the pay gap in the EU and Norway; statutory measures to combat pay discrimination against women and improve their pay conditions; the relationship between the issue of pay equity and collective bargaining; the approach taken by the social partners; and the pay equity issue within EU Member States' National Action Plans for employment.

Studies show that a wide - though narrowing - pay gap persists between women and men in all European Union Member States and in Norway, to the detriment of women. Although a variety of factors are cited to explain the existing wage differentials between women and men, most studies conclude that, in addition to the gap arising from these factors, there is an unexplained difference in wages, which is presumed to be due to discrimination.

In the search for ways to fight wage discrimination, a considerable number of statutory measures have been in existence for a very long time both at Community level and in individual Member States. These measures concern mainly 'prohibiting' legislation, providing for the principle of equal pay for equal work or for work of equal value, while a few countries have gone a step further by passing legislation of a 'proactive' type. The issue is also addressed through collective agreements at different levels, either directly or indirectly.

Increased pay equality between women and men in the labour market is also among the main priorities identified in the EU's current 'European employment strategy'. The recent Employment Guidelines for the Member States indicate that the issue of equal pay is progressively playing a more prominent part in the strategy. In the 2001 Employment Guidelines (EU0010276F), the Member States were, among other measures, asked to pay particular attention to ensuring the application of principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equivalent value. Moreover the Member States - where appropriate with the social partners - were invited to 'initiate positive steps to promote equal pay for equal work or work of equal value and to diminish differentials in incomes between women and men: actions to address gender pay gaps are necessary in the public and private sector, and the impact of the policies on gender pay gaps should be identified and addressed'.

The 2002 Employment Guidelines (EU0109236F) stress the equal pay issue further. They note that: 'The significant level of the pay gap between women and men in many Member States has been identified as a potential disincentive for women to take up work or to remain at work. The request from the Stockholm European Council (EU0104208F) to develop indicators in this area equally underlines the importance of this issue.' The Member States, where appropriate with the social partners, are thus called on to 'adopt a multi-faceted strategy to achieve gender pay equality in both the public and private sectors, and consider the setting of targets to tackle the pay gap. Such a strategy could include inter alia a review of job classification and pay systems to eliminate gender bias, improving statistical and monitoring systems, and awareness-raising and transparency as regards pay gaps.'

The aim of this comparative study is to give a broad overview of national frameworks and instruments to combat pay discrimination against women and to improve their pay conditions in the 15 Member States of the EU plus Norway. The study is based on information provided by the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO) national centres in each of these countries in response to a questionnaire. The national reports, which contain more detailed information on the national experiences summarised here, are available separately on the EIRO website, along with the questionnaire. The study:

  • considers the general development of the wage gap across Europe, and the quality and coverage of wage statistics - the tools to monitor and analyse the wage gap;
  • reviews statutory measures to combat pay discrimination against women and improve their pay conditions;
  • looks at the relationship between the issue of pay equity and collective bargaining and the approach taken by the social partners; and
  • examines the pay equity issue within the Member States' National Action Plans (NAPs) for employment, drawn up in response to the EU Employment Guidelines.

The gender pay gap – figures, status and trends

The 1995 European Structure of Earnings Study (SES) showed that the average earnings of women employed full-time in industry and services in the EU were only around 75% of those of men, although there were significant variations between the countries of the EU. The gender pay gap was widest in the Netherlands and Greece, while the most egalitarian wage structures were found in Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden and the former East Germany.

The SES will not be repeated until 2002. However, in 2001 Eurostat published a study based on harmonised national earnings statistics, looking at gender pay gap developments during the 1990s. The Eurostat study indicates that the 'average earnings of women has risen relative to those of men in most Member States of the Union, but the rise has been small ...' According to this study, the gender pay gap has been closing somewhat in seven out of 13 Member States (there is no information on Italy and France). The gap has remained stable in three countries (Denmark, Ireland and Finland), and increased by 1%-2% in three countries (Austria, Portugal and Sweden). Although the general impression is of a slight narrowing of the pay gap, the study nevertheless points to the fact that 'in the countries in which [women's] average level was lowest in relation to that of men in 1995, there seems to have been comparatively little increase in the subsequent years.'

The data provided by EIRO national centres for this comparative study very much confirm the impression that the pay gap is closing, although slowly - see table 1 below.

Table 1. Gender pay gap developments in EU and Norway
. Current trends, according to national data (% refers to women's average pay as proportion of men's) Current trends, according to Eurostat*
Austria Stable or increasing, from 68% (1990) to 67% (1999) (figure refers to monthly gross earnings) (AT0103209F). Increasing.
Belgium No statistics available on whole economy, but narrowing in industry - falling from 75.3% (1991) to 79.4% (1996) for blue-collar workers and from 64.2% (1991) to 70.1% (1996) for white-collar workers (figures refer to gross annual earnings). Narrowing.
Denmark More or less stable, at around 82% in private sector (figure refers to hourly pay) (DK0006182F). Stable.
Finland More or less stable, narrowing from 80% (1990) to 82% (1999) (figures refer to monthly earnings). Stable.
France Gradually narrowing for full-time employees, from 84.2% (1991) to 88.2% (1998) (figures refer to monthly pay) (FR0109106F). Stable (at around 75%-76%) when part-time employees included. No information.
Germany Narrowing slowly, significant differences between the former eastern and western Germany (no total economy figures available). Narrowing
Greece Narrowed substantially over last decade (no total economy figures available). Narrowing.
Ireland Narrowing, from 80% (1987) to 84.5% (1997) (figures refer to hourly earnings) (IE0011160F). Narrowing.
Italy Stable, rising slightly from 82.3% (1991) to 81.7% (1998) (IT0104181N) (figures refer to annual income). No information.
Luxembourg Narrowing (no figures given). Narrowing.
Netherlands Narrowing; from 73% (1990) to 77% (1998) (figures refer to hourly pay). Narrowing.
Norway Stable when considering average based on major sectors, narrowing slightly from 85% (1990) to 86% (1998) (figures refer to annual pay for full-time employees). Not included in study.
Portugal Relatively stable over last few years, rising slightly from 77% (1997) to 76.5% (1998) (figures refer to basic monthly pay). Increasing.
Spain Gradually narrowing, from 74.9% (1996) to 76.9% (2000) (figures refer to monthly pay) (ES0105242F). Narrowing.
Sweden Stable, with small increase from 84% (1995) to 82% (2000) (figures refer to monthly pay). Increasing.
UK Gradually narrowing, from 76.6% (1990) to 80.6% (2000) (UK0104126F) (figures refer to hourly pay). Narrowing.

Source: National data - EIRO; Eurostat data - Earnings of men and women in the EU: the gap narrowing but slowly, Steve Clarke, Eurostat, Statistics in focus 5/2001 - Theme 3.

Pay statistics – quality and coverage

Wage statistics of sufficient quality and coverage are important in order for the social partners and authorities to monitor and analyse the gender pay gap. In connection with the Swedish EU Presidency in the first half of 2000, an informal report on pay differentials between men and women was prepared by Swedish researchers (Highlighting pay differentials between women and men). The report stresses – as have many other studies on the subject - that pay differences between men and women may be explained by a variety of structural factors, such as position in the labour market, occupation or education. However, the report further points to the fact that pay differences may also be seen as a consequence of men's and women's jobs being subject to different evaluations, as well as differences that can be explained only by direct discrimination. The study thus emphasises that improving statistics is an important strategy to reduce this unjustified pay gap. This means improving both the quality and the coverage of pay statistics, by:

  • making sure that statistics cover all branches of industry as well as part-time employees and more marginal groups that might be excluded from pay statistics;
  • collecting information on occupation that is as detailed as possible, in order to compare the kind of work done by men and women; and
  • including information on overtime pay and on fringe benefits, bonuses etc, since such 'extras' might add to the wage gap if they are more common among male employees than among female employees.

This EIRO comparative study finds that pay statistics are collected on a regular basis in most of the EU countries and Norway, in most countries on an annual basis, or sometimes even quarterly. The statistics – at least the main findings – are made public in annual reports, in articles, via the internet etc. In a number of countries more than one source of wage data exists, often collected for partly different purposes. However, such sources may to a certain degree complement each other - for instance detailed wage statistics based on sectors (with annual updates) and household-based surveys covering the whole economy.

There is little, or at best sporadic, information about the gender pay gap for the whole economy in a number of the countries concerned, even among those with a long-standing tradition of collecting and analysing wage statistics (included on the gender pay gap) at sectoral level. Examples here are Norway and Germany, and until recently also Denmark and Sweden. However, the situation is seen to be improving in some of these countries. Norway, Denmark and Sweden have all changed their procedures for collecting wage statistics during the 1990s, basically resulting in an improvement of the possibility of wage comparisons across sectors and industries. In Belgium, a survey of earnings has been conducted annually since 1999, but the Federal Ministry of Employment and Labour recently stressed that 'studies already undertaken need to be further improved'. In the UK, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has recently devised a method of reconciling two sources of wage data, producing estimates for the lowest-paid groups.

Thorough national studies on the gender pay gap have also been undertaken in many European countries (as well as analyses done on the basis of SES material). For instance, in Ireland a recent study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that: 'About three-quarters of the gap between men's and women's hourly wages can be attributed to the fact that women, under current social and economic structures, typically spend less time in the labour market than men and more time as carers in the home'. According to the ESRI, the average female employee has worked for 12 years in the paid labour market, as against 18 years for the average male. However, this still leaves an 'unexplained' wage gap of about 5%.

This kind of analysis seems to have been conducted in many of the countries covered by EIRO. In 1999, the German parliament asked the federal government to present a detailed report (expected in early 2002) on the job and income situation of women and men. On the basis of this report, parliament will decide on a future monitoring system regarding pay developments for women and men. Reports highlighting the gender pay gap are also produced in many other countries, including France, Italy and the UK.

A central question regarding the quality of wage statistics and the gender pay gap is the extent to which some female-dominated (and low-paid) groups are left out, leading to an underestimation (or possible overestimation) of the pay gap. For example, the SES did not include part-time employees. A study commissioned by the UK Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has found that the UK gender pay gap would increase substantially if part-time employees had been included in the SES.

For most countries, including part-time employees would increase the gender pay gap by 1%-3%. However, the general impression, based on national studies, is that wage statistics are regarded as fairly representative of the actual pay gap situation. The statistics might have some limitations with regards coverage, but this is not necessarily regarded as an impediment to the possibility of analysing the gender pay gap. However, in Spain and Greece more women than men are employed in the sectors or companies not covered by wage statistics. In Greece, this most probably effects the estimation of the wage gap, since more women than men are employed in low-paid jobs in the informal sector. One might also note that a number of time series on the gender wage gap, which allow long-term analysis (for instance covering wage levels among blue-collar workers in private sector), are based on full-time employees.

Another aspect of the quality of wage statistics is whether they are detailed enough to estimate the content of the work, in order to detect 'work of equal value'. Analyses of this type are becoming more important as the focus on so-called 'value discrimination' increases. The general impression is that existing statistics only to a limited degree allow for this kind of analysis. Even when it is possible to compare wage levels according to educational level and seniority, the problem remains of how to compare across different occupations. An important aspect of value discrimination is that men and women are employed in different parts of the labour market, or at least in different kind of jobs.

A final aspect concerning the quality of wage statistics and gender pay equity, is the degree to which bonuses, overtime compensation etc are included in the statistics. One might argue that these kinds of 'extra' payments contribute to the gender wage gap, but are often ignored in the wage statistics and thereby contribute to an underestimation of the wage gap. The general impression is that overtime payments are often recorded in the existing wage statistics, but that typical fringe benefits are more rarely accounted for in statistics.


All countries covered by this study have legislation concerning pay discrimination. Pay discrimination at work on the grounds of gender is explicitly prohibited by the constitutions of eight countries – Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain - while in Belgium, though not explicitly, the constitution contains the fundamental rules on which the principle of equal treatment is based in domestic law.

In addition, in all 16 countries covered there are specific laws providing for the principle of equal pay for women and men. In particular, in all countries national legislation is reported to be completely harmonised with EU law, mainly with:

  • Article 141 of the European Community Treaty (formerly Article 119) , which provides that 'each Member State shall ensure that the principle of equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or work of equal value is applied.' For the purpose of this Article, pay means 'the ordinary basic or minimum wage or salary and any other consideration, whether in cash or in kind, which the worker receives directly or indirectly, in respect of his employment, from his employer'. 'Equal pay without discrimination based on sex' means: '(a) that pay for the same work at piece rates shall be calculated on the basis of the same unit of measurement; (b) that pay for work at time rates shall be the same for the same job;' and
  • Council Directive 75/117/EEC of 10 February 1975 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the application of the principle of equal pay for men and women. This provides for the Member States to implement the principle of pay for men and women, which means, 'for the same work or for work to which equal value is attributed, the elimination of all discrimination on grounds of sex with regard to all aspects and conditions of remuneration. 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 so drawn up as to exclude any discrimination on grounds of sex.'

Table 2 below lists the titles and dates of the main national legislation concerning pay equity between men and women.

Table 2. National legislation concerning pay equity between men and women
Country Main legal provisions
Austria The 1979 Act on Equal Treatment on Men and Women, as amended since.
Belgium The 1999 Law on Equal Treatment for Men and Women (Articles 12 and 25) and the Royal Decree of 9 December 1975.
Denmark The 1976 Act on Equal Pay for Men and Women, as amended since to include additional points.
Finland The 1995 Constitution (section 5, paragraph 4) and the Act on Equality between Men and Women (section 8, paragraph 2).
France The 1946 Constitution and Articles L.140.2 and thereafter of the Labour Code.
Germany The 1949 Constitution or 'Basic Law' (Article 3), and the Civil Code (Articles 611a and 612).
Greece The 1975 Constitution (Article 22(1)), as amended in 2001, and Law 1484/1984 (Article 4).
Ireland The 1998 Employment Equality Act (IE9909144F), repealing the 1974 Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act and the 1977 Employment Equality Act.
Italy The Constitution (Articles 3 and 37), Law 903/1977 (Article 2) and Law 125/1991.
Luxembourg The 1981 law relating to equal treatment between men and women, and the 1974 Grand-Ducal Regulation of relating to equal pay for men and women (Articles 1, 2, 3(1), 3(2) and 4).
Netherlands The Constitution (Article 1) and the 1994 Law on Equal Treatment.
Norway The 1978 Act on Gender Equality (currently under review).
Portugal The Constitution (Article 59) and Law 105/1997 relating to equal treatment at work and in employment.
Spain The Constitution (Article 35), and the Workers' Statute (Articles 17 and 28).
Sweden The 1980 Act on Equality between Men and Women/Equal Opportunities Act, as amended since.
UK The Equal Pay 1970, as amended by Equal Value Regulations of 1983, and the Sex Discrimination Act of 1976 and 1986.

Source: EIRO.

As to the content of the national legislation, in all countries it prohibits direct or indirect pay discrimination on the grounds of sex. The legislation in all countries classes as pay discrimination any form of (prejudicial) pay differentiation, which is not justified on objective grounds. Equal pay for equal work or work of equal value must apply to all elements and conditions of pay (including areas such as company benefits or job evaluation systems).

Evidently, a substantial number of provisions aimed at achieving equal pay for equal work or work of equal value have been in existence for a very long time both at Community level and in individual Member States. However, as the available statistical data show (see above under 'The gender pay gap – figures, status and trends') in spite of the legislation, a wide, though narrowing, pay gap remains between women and men in all Member States.

It is perhaps for that reason that in some countries amendments to the existing legislation, additional provisions and/or new laws have, over recent years, sought further to achieve gender pay equity. Almost all such changes, however, seek to fight wage discrimination or improve the pay conditions of women rather more indirectly. For example:

  • in Austria, the 1993 Act on Equal Treatment on Men and Women relating to the employees of the federal state (Bundesgleichbehandlungsgesetz), lays down a general requirement for positive action in favour of women (in hiring, promotion and training), while in the private sector a 1999 amendment to the Labour Constitution Act (Arbeitsverfassungsgesetz) obliges employers to consult with work councils on positive action for women at company level;
  • similarly, in Greece Law 2839/2000 introduced a gender-based employment quota system in the public sector, and a 2001 amendment to Article 116 of the Constitution allows for positive action for promoting equality between men and women (GR0108119F); and
  • in Italy, law 125 of 1991, which deals with affirmative action for the achievement of parity between men and women in the workplace, provides among other measures for the creation of a national body with the task of promoting initiatives (affirmative actions, surveys, the collection and exchange of information etc) in order to combat gender-based discrimination. However, implementation of law 125/1991 has proved extremely difficult. For this reason a decree law (196/2000) was issued in 2000 to support the activities of the National Equal Opportunities Committee (Commissione Nazionale per la Parità e le Pari opportunità tra uomo e donna) and of equality advisors (IT0104281F).

A few countries have also gone a step further by passing legislation of a 'proactive' type. It is in France and Sweden where this legislative approach has been most fully developed:

  • in France, under Article L.432.3.1 of the Labour Code, employers are required to draw up an annual report and submit it for approval to the works council or if there is none, to the workforce delegate, comparing the general employment conditions and training for women and men in the company. This report, containing an analysis of the basic relevant indicators, mostly based on statistics - determined by decree and possibly supplemented by indicators covering the particular situation of the firm - must show, among other points, the respective situation of women and men in terms of actual pay for each occupational category in the company. The report lists the steps taken during the previous year with a view to ensuring equality at work, as well as the objectives planned for the following year. Trade union delegates are sent the report at the same time and in the same format as members of the works council. Similarly, wage bargaining, whether at sector or company level, must address the objective of gender equality at work. A new law on gender equality at work passed on 9 May 2001 requires employers to negotiate at company and sector levels on the objectives of occupational gender equality; and
  • in Sweden, under the Act on Equality between Men and Women it is obligatory for employers to produce yearly plans and reviews of the wage situation for male and female workers. The employer and the employees must cooperate in this area, with the employer required to provide to the trade unions all available information on the gender wage situation in the workplace, in order to draw up the annual plan. Information on individuals' pay conditions is protected by a general rules of secrecy. Since January 2001, it is explicitly stated in the Act that the main purpose of these mandatory annual plans is to discover, correct and prevent wage discrimination, as well as to estimate the cost of the necessary pay adjustments (SE0102179N).

An obligation on Danish employers to compile, on request, gender-differentiated wage statistics, provided for by a July 2001 amendment to the 1976 Act on Equal Pay for Men and Women (due to come into force in June 2002), could also be seen as a form of proactive legislation (DK0106123N).

In Germany and the UK, all efforts to introduce legislation of this type and impose specific obligations on the social partners in this area have been opposed by employers' organisations, which have so far preferred to develop models of a voluntary type.

Minimum wage legislation

Another tool regarded as a form of protective legislation in preventing wage discrimination against women is minimum wage legislation. However, the discussion on the use of minimum wage legislation, though prominent among academics and commentators, is not really an issue for governments or for social partner organisations at European level.

Nine of the countries considered here provide for a national minimum wage, set either by law or by a national intersectoral agreement. In Belgium, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, there appears to be no public debate at any level on minimum wages as a way of preventing gender pay discrimination, although in cases such as France and the Netherlands such a discussion occurred when the relevant legislation was originally introduced. However, according to a number of studies, the gender pay gap tends to be narrower in countries with strong statutory or collectively agreed wage protection – where there is, for example, a minimum wage and/or relatively centralised wage fixing, as in Sweden, Denmark and France (TN0005402S). This finding is further supported if we consider the cases of Ireland and the UK, which until very recently did not have a statutory national minimum wage.

In Ireland, the impact of the minimum wage legislation on the gender wage gap is currently a major issue of debate. A national minimum wage was first introduced in Ireland in April 2000 under the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 (IE9804246F). The trade unions and the government view the minimum wage as a key means of preventing wage discrimination. Employer groups oppose the minimum wage. Manus O'Riordan, head of research at the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), has claimed that the gender wage gap has fallen by approximately two percentage points since the national minimum wage was introduced in April 2000. He suggests that this change has occurred because women accounted for a large proportion of the low-paid workers whose earnings fell below the minimum wage rate before its introduction (IE0107170F).

Similarly, in the UK a strong relationship is reported between the national minimum wage (NMW), introduced in April 1999 (UK9904196F), and the narrowing of the pay gap between women and men. In particular, women were twice as likely to be affected by the NMW as men due to their concentration at the bottom of the earnings distribution, with part-time women workers making up half of all those affected by the NMW. In the NMW's first year, the average hourly gender pay gap narrowed by approximately 1% - the largest fall of the decade (IE9804246F).

In the same direction, the 2000 Swedish report Highlighting pay differentials between women and men (see above under 'Pay statistics – quality and coverage') connects the effectiveness of minimum wage legislation as a means to prevent pay discrimination against women and/or to improve their pay situation, with the level at which the minimum wage is set: if the level of the minimum wage is too low, the gender pay gap will not be dramatically affected.

The role of court cases

Despite the statutory measures, discriminatory pay practices still exist in all countries considered. In this framework, one way of tackling unjustified gender pay differentials is to take a case of suspected wage discrimination to the courts. Whether in ordinary courts, labour/industrial courts or some other type of court, depending on the legal system of each country, in all 16 countries covered it is possible to take cases of pay discrimination to court. How often this is done and who has recourse to the law varies considerably across Europe. In Finland, Germany, Greece and the UK it is only the individual employee who can bring a case before the courts, while in Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden a case can be brought by both workers and their representatives (ie trade unions or works councils). However, our study does not provide any indication of whether this difference in approach has any effect on the courts' decisions. Besides, even in the countries where there is no right to collective interest representation in this area, it is reported that trade unions have a significant role in aiding individual complainants.

Moreover, apart from Germany, Greece and Luxembourg, in all other countries considered national legislation provides for the establishment of equal opportunities bodies, either governmental and/or state-funded, or independent bodies, charged mainly with ensuring the application of the law and promoting equality of opportunity in general. However in 14 out of the 16 countries examined these bodies are advisory and consultative by their nature. Only in Italy and Sweden are these bodies also entitled to bring cases of wage discrimination before the courts on behalf of workers.

However, despite the possibility in national legal systems to bring cases of wage discrimination before the courts, the number of complaints is very small in most of the countries concerned. In connection with the number of court cases, it seems that a significant barrier is the time involved. For example, in the UK an equal pay case takes on average between 11 and 28 months and an equal value case can take between five and 48 months. In addition, only a small proportion of cases is determined by a tribunal hearing, while the success rate at such hearings is not high (approximately 30%). Therefore, the UK government has consulted with the social partners and other experts on amending the law on equal pay cases, with the aim of simplifying and speeding up procedures (UK0106134N).

Despite these problems, the role of court cases as a means of fighting gender pay discrimination should not be underestimated. For example, in Germany and Spain court cases have been significant in dealing with indirect pay discrimination, while in Ireland and the UK a number of successful cases have encouraged employers to be proactive in examining pay systems and review their grading structures. Furthermore, at EU level, there have been many landmark rulings in this area by the European Court of Justice in cases referred by national courts.

Collective agreements and the gender pay gap

It is argued that collective agreements can be both a barrier and a facilitator when it comes to combating gender pay inequality. On the one hand, collective agreements may be used to identify and fight pay discrimination. On the other hand, collective agreements, and the pay systems provided for by them, can be conservative elements, cementing existing pay differences.

To what extent is gender pay equity on the bargaining agenda throughout Europe? National reports indicate that in most countries some aspects of gender pay equity – directly or indirectly – are or have been on the bargaining agenda, as indicated by table 3 below. However, there is substantial variation as to how and to what degree. This naturally mirrors the different bargaining systems and industrial relations traditions across Europe, but also variations with regard to what aspects of gender pay equity and labour market equality are seen as appropriate to be addressed through the collective bargaining system.

Table 3. Gender pay equity and collective bargaining/collective agreements, EU and Norway,
Country Bargaining and agreements relating to gender pay equity
Austria Gender pay equity is set out in concrete terms in collective agreements (mainly sectoral in Austria) only in exceptional instances. One example is the metalworking industry collective agreement, which states that 'the pay scales are to be established without differentiating on the basis of age and gender. Performing the same work deserves the same wage.'
Belgium Gender pay equity has been addressed in the two most recent national intersectoral agreements. In the 1999-2000 agreement (BE9811252F), the social partners agreed that 'sectors where the job classification system leads to an absence of equal opportunities between men and women shall carry out a review of these systems.' In the 2001-2 agreement (BE0101337F), it was decided to sustain this work by encouraging the use of analytical or equivalent systems of classifying jobs. However, so far only a few sectors have established study groups to examine the possible introduction of a new sectoral job classification system.
Denmark In general, gender pay equity is not an issue of great importance on the bargaining agenda. Gender equality more general is addressed in sectoral agreements and in the private sector Cooperation Agreement between the Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) and the Danish Employers' Confederation (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforeining, DA. A 1991 protocol to the latter commits DA and LO to finding ways of tackling the gender pay gap. An additional DA/LO agreement on equal opportunities obliges company-level work councils (cooperation committees) to set up an equal treatment committee which can, if required, map the differences in treatment between men and women in areas such as recruitment, dismissals, pay determination and education. Gender (pay) equity is seldom on the agenda in local bargaining.
Finland Recent years have seen bargaining mainly dominated by central incomes policy agreements, and research indicates that such agreements have had a restraining effect of any widening of the gender wage gap. In the incomes policy agreement for 2001-2 (FI0012170F), the central social partners agreed on an 'equality allowance'- an additional pay increases to be used at sector level to improve the position of women and lower-paid workers. The amount is defined according to the combined proportion of women of low-paid employees added together within each sector. Aspects of gender pay equity may also be dealt with in some sectoral collective agreements, for example the 2001-2 agreement for the municipal sector provides for new job evaluation procedures.
France Gender equality issues generally, and pay equality specifically, have tended to be dealt with by law rather than bargaining. A 1989 intersectoral agreement, which sought to promote lower-level bargaining on equality issues, included a reiteration of the principle of equal pay for equal work, and aimed, among other objectives, to eliminate discriminatory clauses in sectoral collective agreements. However, it produced little effect at sector level, where bargaining on equality issues has been generally scarce, though in 2000 the legal principle of gender equality was articulated for the first time in 10 sectoral agreements (including metalworking, banking and retail). There has also been little company-level equality bargaining. However, legislation passed in May 2001 will oblige employers at company level to negotiate on defined objectives in the field of gender equality at work, and measures to be put in place to attain them, on an annual basis. The law also makes it compulsory to negotiate at sector level 'on the steps towards bringing about gender equality at work [...] and those for rectifying identified inequalities' every three years. Moreover, in companies employing 200 or more people, a committee for gender equality at work will have to be set up within the works council.
Germany Gender pay equity is currently not a major issue on the bargaining agenda and there are no collective agreements that deal explicitly with the issue. Some sectoral collective agreements (eg in chemicals or tobacco) cover gender pay equity more indirectly, mostly under the heading of 'equal opportunities'. In addition, there are several works agreements at establishment level (eg at Opel or Frankfurt airport), which sometimes include more concrete measures to improve the employment position and status of women within the company. In some collective and works agreements, there are provisions on promoting women's employment in certain (usually better paid) positions, a measure which might have a direct effect on gender pay equity.
Greece In general, the concepts of equal opportunities and collective bargaining are not linked. There are some collective agreements, at both national and sectoral level, which could be considered ground-breaking by Greek standards, although none of these agreements contain special regulations or positive actions aimed at preventing, reducing and eliminating pay discrimination against women. In the 1993 National General Collective Agreement, the contracting parties committed themselves to promoting equal treatment and equal opportunities for men and women, including on the issue of pay. Nine years later, it appears that both the trade unions and the employers' organisations are failing to ensure in practice even that the provisions signed by both sides are implemented.
Ireland The current national agreement, the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF), contains a wide range of provisions explicitly and implicitly dealing with gender pay equity (IE0003149F). A consultative group examining gender pay differentials was established under the PPF and a national minimum wage with some impact on reducing gender wage differentials was introduced. The PPF also incorporates a framework agreement on equal opportunities at the workplace and a national framework for family-friendly policies (IE0009155F). Gender pay equity is yet to emerge as a significant issue within collective agreements at company level.
Italy Some collective agreements at both sector and company level contain rules aimed at protecting women from possible wage discrimination in productivity bonuses, which are awarded on an individual basis. Examples are two agreements (in municipal electricity companies and the RAI broadcasting company) that state that such bonuses must be awarded on the basis of a worker's productivity and absences from work, and that compulsory maternity leave does not count as absence from work.
Luxembourg All collective agreements must provide for the application of the principle of equal pay for men and women. Under legislation adopted in 1999, the social partners are obliged to negotiate the implementation of the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the establishments and/or enterprises where their collective agreements apply. Negotiations must particularly focus on the setting up of an equality plan, and on ways of making the enterprise and its continuing training measures accessible to people wishing to re-enter the labour market after a career break.
Netherlands Given the existence of legislation on gender (pay) equity (which is observed by employers), collective bargaining does not deal with the subject . In 2000, within the bipartite consultative Labour Foundation (Stichting van de Arbeid, STAR), employers and trade unions agreed an opinion on a government plan for achieving equal pay, which deals directly with pay systems. The partners stated that they will cooperate in the planned government campaigns, ensuring that the information reaches the relevant groups and institutions. In 2001, the STAR developed a checklist on equal pay, serving as the social partners' own instrument for use when implementing, applying or evaluating pay systems.
Norway Gender pay equity is to a certain degree on the agenda in collective bargaining at central level, as trade unions argue that female-dominated employee groups should be given priority. In the public sector, the parties have on several occasions agreed to give women priority in subsequent company-level negotiations, stating that women should have a more than pro-rata part of the funds set aside for such negotiations. The principle of equal pay is incorporated in most agreements, and several agreements state that men's and women's wages should be mapped in order to see if there are pay gaps that cannot be accounted for.
Portugal The theme of gender pay equity is presently on the bargaining agenda. Several agreements state the principle of equal pay for equal work.
Spain Gender pay equity is not an issue in bargaining, and in principle wages should be the same for men and women.
Sweden Unions - and especially those with many female members - always place claims on gender pay equity and gender equity in general on the sectoral bargaining agenda, though former attempts to create specific women's pay 'pots' have been rejected by employers in recent years. A number of sectoral 'gender equality agreements' affirm the legislative principle of equal pay for the same job and work of equal value, but do not deal with specific details. There is no specific general bargaining about gender aspects of pay at local level, but legislation requires a local review at company level every year, whereby the local parties should adjust any possible lower pay for female workers (see above under 'Legislation').
UK Individual studies suggest that gender pay equity is not generally an important issue on the private sector bargaining agenda (at company or lower level) but has a higher priority in public sector bargaining. An example of 'good practice' relates to the civil service which, after decentralisation of pay to individual departments, was required to 'equality proof' its pay systems in the 1990s. An example of a subsequent departmental agreement is that reached in 1998 pay negotiations which committed the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and trade unions to a joint equal pay audit - which was conducted the following year - leading to a range of equal opportunities activities.

Source: EIRO.

The principle of equal pay for equal work has been included in collective agreements in many countries. As the principle is incorporated in legislation as well, this does not necessary change the status quo. However, there are also examples of agreements where this legislative principle has in some measure been extended, or where the social partners at company level are asked to examine their agreements to make sure that these are gender neutral. In addition, 'intentional agreements' are reported from some countries - central-level framework agreements or declarations on labour market gender equality in a broader context.

In many countries, collective agreements include some kind of initiative to achieve more labour market equality in general. Examples of this are measures to: improve women's integration in the labour market; ensure the training and promotion of women; and facilitate the reconciliation of work and family obligations. Indirectly, and in a long-term perspective, such measures might have an impact on gender pay equity. Several such initiatives are reported, and indeed we would expect to find aspects of this approach in collective bargaining in most if not all of the EU countries and Norway. Concrete initiatives laid down in collective agreements can be found in central agreements (as in Ireland), or company-level agreements (as reported in Germany), or may form part of the social partners' more general cooperation (for instance in the Nordic countries).

In some countries, gender pay equity specifically has been placed on the bargaining agenda in a more direct way. One example is the Finnish national agreement for 2001-2. Here it was agreed to introduce an 'equality allowance' at sector level with a view to improving the position of women and lower-paid workers. The funds set aside to be distributed for this purpose depend on the proportion of women and lower-paid employees in each sector, meaning that sectors with many lower-paid women will allocate more money than the others. The 'equality allowance' is activated only if an agreement is reached on the issue by the sectoral parties. If no such agreement is reached, the amount is instead paid as a general increase. The principle of fighting gender pay discrimination by giving priority to female-dominated and/or low-paid sectors through central-level negotiations is not uncommon, at least not in a Nordic context where negotiations at central level still play a significant role. However, in connection with this, it is worth considering the Finnish example with regard to both the way in which the allocation of funds is calculated – explicitly linking this to the number of women in a sector and thereby not focusing solely on low paid women - and the ambition of using the money set aside to change the relative remuneration of women (and low-paid industries).

In several countries it is possible to identify an interplay between legislation and collective agreements that may lead to an increased role for company-level bargaining on gender equality in the future. Swedish legislation states that 'an employer shall ... annually review the existence of pay differentials between men and women in various types of works and for different categories of employees as well as preparing an annual equal opportunities plan.' The employer and the employees are to cooperate on this review. Likewise, in France (2001) and Luxembourg (1999), recent national legislation states that employers are obliged to pursue negotiations over gender equality on an annual basis at company level. In France, such negotiations must also be conducted at sectoral level every three years. Even if such agreements/plans seem to focus on a much broader spectrum of issues than just pay (pay may not even be mentioned as an item to be considered), such obligations will necessarily put gender equality on the agenda and might lead to a higher awareness of the question of pay as well.

Job evaluation

Although collective agreements often focus on principles or on labour market equality in a more indirect way, there are collective agreements and provisions that focus more directly on pay structures. Here job evaluation schemes and the role of job classifications should be mentioned specifically. While separate pay rates for men and women in the same positions disappeared years ago, one of the remaining challenges regarding pay equity is the (different) valuation of women's jobs and men's jobs. Many would argue that a (re)evaluation of jobs – based on objective criteria and with a gender perspective - might lead to a favourable valuation of 'typically female' occupations, also in relation to pay.

Our study finds that job evaluation, and the quality of present job classification schemes, is on the agenda in many of the countries concerned. The general impression is that such schemes are regarded, by both trade unions and labour market/gender equality authorities, as a means to combat 'value discrimination'. Job evaluation as a mean to increase gender pay equity is under debate in the Nordic countries, Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK. In several of these countries, such schemes have been tried out on a voluntary basis. In most countries, some research has been conducted, or guidelines/handbooks etc have been produced. For instance, in the UK job evaluations have been employed in the public sector on several occasions. A 1986 agreement for local government manual workers (negotiated at national level) led to higher valuation of predominantly female jobs, such as care workers, and a downgrading of some male jobs, such as refuse collectors.

However, it is not unproblematic to introduce and use such schemes. One problem is the extent to which it is possible to compare jobs across bargaining areas, eg those for blue- and white-collar workers. In Germany, this is one of the issues under discussion by the social partners in the metalworking sector. Linked to this is the challenge of how to compare very different jobs on the basis of common and objective criteria, an obstacle that arises since women and men often work in different jobs and in different sectors. A third issue is the role of 'market value', which is relevant since men more often work in private sector in many countries, and can argue that the wages here are higher due to the labour market situation. In Sweden, the 'market value' argument has caused the failure of most of the 'equal value' cases based on job evaluation brought before the Labour Court (SE0110101F). Another obstacle in relation to the implementation of job evaluation schemes is that they may be both time-consuming and expensive in terms of wage adjustments, especially in periods when nominal wage increases are low.

Table 4 below sets out brief details of the job evaluation debate in 12 countries. No information is available for France and Ireland, while the issue is not reported to have arisen in a significant way in Greece and Italy.

Table 4. Gender-related job evaluation in the EU and Norway
Country Job evaluation developments/debate
Austria Put on the agenda by the trade unions. Research has been carried out.
Belgium Since the late 1990s, the federal government has frequently intervened with the social partners to urge them to modernise job classifications. Present legislation authorises the government to formulate a certain number of conditions that job evaluation systems must fulfil in order to be gender-neutral, but so far this has not occurred. The issue has also been covered in recent intersectoral agreements (see table 3).
Denmark Job evaluation is discussed as one way of combating the gender pay gap, but mandatory job evaluation has not been considered. In January 2001, the Ministry of Labour published an analysis dealing with job evaluation and equal pay. The conclusion of the analysis is that job evaluation might be a way of narrowing the gender pay gap in Denmark.
Finland Job evaluation is considered as a tool to narrow wage differentials. The first concrete expression of this approach is the 2001-2 collective agreement for the municipal sector (see table 3). More generally, the social partners have been drawing up a job evaluation system, which is being implemented at the workplace. The development of this system is an ongoing process.
Germany In the early 1990s, the former Public Services, Transport and Traffic Union (Gewerkschaft Öffentliche Dienste Transport und Verkehr, ÖTV) - now part of the Unified Service Sector Union (Vereinigte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, ver.di) - started a campaign for an upgrading of 'typically female' jobs (for example in care and education). In 1998, ÖTV set up an 'upgrading commission' in order to draw up concrete proposals for 'gender-fair' job evaluation within the public sector. In the metalworking sector, the bargaining parties have been negotiating over a modernisation of job evaluation systems, including for example the creation of joint agreements for blue- and white-collar workers. Within this context, the IG Metall metalworkers' union is demanding a reassessment of various jobs dominated by women.
Luxembourg Not an issue so far, but job evaluation is an issue dealt with in the 2001-5 action plan on equal opportunities.
Netherlands Job evaluation is perceived as a possible means by which gender pay equity may be attained. In spring 2000, the Under-Secretary for Social Affairs published research aimed at making pay comparisons gender-neutral and more objective. In connection with this initiative, the social partners developed a checklist to prevent unequal pay (see table 3).
Norway The relevant ministry has decided to try out job evaluation as a means to reduce the gender pay gap, and will finance projects to this end, although the government has stated that it will not put forward any proposal to make job evaluation mandatory. During the 1990s, job evaluation as a means of achieving gender pay equity was tried out in both the state sector and the municipal sector, and among companies in the private sector. The responses have mainly been positive.
Portugal Job evaluation is seen by researchers and trade unions as an important mean of creating gender pay equity and is a subject of debate. However, its practice has been difficult.
Spain The application of an objective job evaluation procedure is seen an essential means of fighting pay discrimination. A fundamental problem is the general lack of agreement on what is understood by the value of work, which makes it difficult to apply the principle of 'equal pay for work of equal value'. In recent years the public authorities and the social partners have been drawing up proposals to facilitate the detection and correction of pay discrimination, including a 'Guide to good practices in job evaluation' published in 2000.
Sweden The Equal Opportunity Ombudsman (Jämställdhetsombudsmannen, Jämo) issues material about job evaluation and provides consultative support to parties that wish to conduct job evaluations. The issue of value discrimination has been brought before the Labour Court on several occasions, but it has rejected most of the cases from the 1990s onwards, stating that it is impossible not to consider 'market-based wages', which are normally higher for men. However, in one recent case in March 2001 (SE0103187F), the Labour Court for the first time accepted the job evaluation methods presented by the employee side.
UK Job evaluation is seen as one means to secure equal pay for work of equal value. There is an increased use of job evaluation in public sector organisations to overcome historical inequalities. It is estimated that virtually all 470,000 civil service jobs are covered by properly developed evaluation processes. A national job evaluation scheme is a core element of the new pay system currently in development in the National Health Service.

Source: EIRO.

Social partners and gender pay equity

Employers' organisations

In principle, in all the 16 countries examined, employers' organisations are in favour of equal opportunities in general and gender pay equity in particular. However, their action to achieve gender pay equity appears from the national reports to be very limited.

Of crucial importance in discussing and explaining the position of employers' organisations is the fact that in almost all countries these organisations share the view that existing wage differentials between men and women are not an expression of discrimination against female employees. In Belgium, for example, the main employers' association argues that the pay situation of women is explained by certain objective factors, such as skills, while employers in Denmark explain gender pay differentials on the basis of 'human capital' theory (ie it is a result of men and women behaving differently on the labour market in areas such as choice of career, and of the division of labour in households).

Similarly, in Germany the general attitude of, for example, the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (Bundesvereinigung der deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA) is that existing wage differentials between men and women are the result of different 'job biographies'. A similar position has been presented in a recent study by the employer-related Institute of the German Economy (Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft, IW) which took the viewpoint that direct gender pay discrimination no longer exists in Germany, and that existing pay differentials between men and women could be explained by the different gender-specific job biographies ('Einkommen und Lohndiskriminierung von Frauen', Holger Schäfer, in IW-Trends No. 3/2001).

Given this general attitude, it is not surprising that the employers' organisations in many of the 16 countries examined appear to see no particular need for action in the field of gender pay policy.

No relevant initiatives are reported to exist in Belgium, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, and the UK. However, these countries should not be treated as a homogeneous group. In Greece, for example, the employers' organisations do not appear to devote any particular attention to the issue of equal opportunities in general. On the contrary, in Luxembourg a number of gender issues seem to be high on the employers' agenda. Furthermore, it could be said that gender pay issues are indirectly addressed in all the other countries apart from Greece.

In Germany, for example, the Gesamtmetall metalworking employers' association supports various projects to increase the number of female employees in male-dominated sectors (for example in engineering and information technology). In Ireland, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) calls for initiatives that promote the supply of childcare and 'family-friendly' provisions. This is in line with the general position of IBEC that the biggest single cause of the gender pay gap is that women's labour market experience and participation is often less than that of men. The problem of wage differentials is therefore addressed in terms of eliminating any barriers to female participation in the formal workforce during the child-bearing and child-rearing years.

Similarly, in the UK the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) believes that the best way to close the gender pay gap is to remove barriers to equality of opportunity between men and women in the workplace – for example, improving childcare facilities, promoting flexible working patterns, providing better-quality careers advice and breaking down gender stereotypes. Examples of individual employer involvement in such initiatives include the government-created Employers for Work-Life Balance alliance, which involves 22 employers committed to promoting good practice to other businesses. Individual employers are also seeking funding from the government's Work–Life Balance Challenge to improve their work-life balance.

In almost all other countries for which some information is available - Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Spain - employers' organisations have introduced various initiatives aimed at promoting gender pay equity. However most of these initiatives are arguably rather isolated and fragmentary, or are part of joint initiatives with the government and/or the trade unions.

Another very important issue when discussing the position of employers' organisations in relation to gender pay equity is the role they ascribe to legislation. As mentioned above, at least in theory, employers are bound by law to comply with the relevant legislation and not to conclude contracts that constitute direct or indirect discrimination against women. However, in practice we have seen that the legislation has still not achieved the necessary impact. For that reason some countries have gone a step further, either by improving the existing 'prohibiting' legislation or either by passing legislation of a 'proactive' type.

However, in many cases employers' organisations have opposed such initiatives. In Germany, for example, BDA rejects all binding regulations on the topic, and it also recently rejected the idea of a law on equal opportunities in the private sector (preferring instead to reach a bilateral agreement with the government on the subject - DE0107231F). Moreover, in France, though the issue of gender equality at work has been on the agenda of 'industrial relations overhaul' project launched by the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF) in late 1999 (FR0102134F), MEDEF 'disapproves of the new interference by parliament in social dialogue represented by the Act of 9 May 2001 [see above] creating a statutory obligation to negotiate on this matter [equality] at company and sector levels (...) This serious issue deserves being dealt with in ways other than the use of ever more constraint, formality and repression.'

The report Highlighting pay differentials between women and men prepared for the Swedish EU Presidency in 2000 (see above), notes that a valuable contribution on the part of the European Commission, in an effort to put the equal pay principle into practice at company and sectoral levels, was the 1996 Communication on A code of practice on the implementation of equal pay for work of equal value, which gives concrete advice and instructions, mainly to employers at company and sectoral levels. However, the seven countries - Belgium, Finland, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway and Portugal - which provided some information on the matter, report no impact at all of this initiative. The main reason reported is that the code has not been disseminated among employers or promoted to enterprises.

Trade unions

In all countries covered it is widely believed by trade unions, unlike employers' organisations, that gender-based wage discrimination still persists despite the relevant legislation and the progress made in collective agreements. Overall, the actions taken by trade unions in relation to pay equity are more or less similar in all 16 countries and can be classified as follows - see also table 5 below.

  • Actions to increase public awareness on gender pay discrimination, which include campaigns, conferences, symposiums, debates, seminars, pamphlets, handbooks, brochures, videos, websites and newsletters.
  • Research to identify the causes and practices of discrimination, which includes: studies on factors determining the pay differential between men and women; research on company-level good practice in the field of equal opportunities; studies analysing job evaluation systems and identifying job descriptions which obviously discriminate against women; and studies on what union action can be carried out in companies.
  • Exchanges of views and information and cooperation in the formulation of measures to tackle discrimination, which includes: regular concertation meetings; internal working groups bringing together full-time officials who are experts in job classifications and officials responsible for gender issues; and collective reflection and discussion between different actors in the world of labour.
  • The implementation of procedures to combat gender discrimination, which includes: procedures for centralising requests for legal interventions concerning gender discrimination; designation of at least one official in each trade union at national/sectoral level responsible for gender equality issues; the assertion of women's rights by means of collective bargaining (such as the reassessment of various jobs dominated by women); bringing cases of discrimination to court; providing funds for correcting discrimination progressively; and the establishment of working groups to draw up concrete proposals for 'gender-fair' job evaluation.
  • Training, which includes: providing help for union representatives to combat gender discrimination; training courses on negotiating for equal pay; 'equality at work' training courses; and training using a model agreement on equal pay.
Table 5. Main actions taken by trade unions in relation to gender pay equity
Country Actions to increase public awareness Studies and research Exchanges of views and information, and formulation of measures Implementation of procedures Training
Austria Campaign entitled 'Look closely to make discrimination against women visible' (GPA) . . Symposium titled 'Wages, qualification and gender' aimed at initiating a debate on gender-related wage discrimination and formulating measures (various unions). . .
Belgium Pamphlet for International Women's Day 2000 (FGTB/ABVV), brochure on job classifications (CSC/ACV), video on equal treatment (CSC/ACV). Study for full-time officials (CSC/ACV). Internal working group bringing together full-time officials expert in job classifications and officials with responsibilities for 'gender action' (CSC/ACV). Procedure for centralising requests for legal interventions in the event of discrimination (FGTB/ABVV). Enterprise-level training (FGTB/ABVV), training days for full-time women officials (CSC/ACV), help to union representatives on job classification reviews (CSC/ACV).
Denmark Seminars and information material, handbooks and websites (various unions). Pamphlet entitled 'Wage as deserved?' (LO). . . 'Five-point' programme to deal with gender pay equity (information about pay, maternity/paternity leave, pensions, the gender-divided labour market, training of shop stewards) (LO). Shop steward training (LO).
Finland Handbook entitled 'In accordance with the income – pay for the work or title?' (SAK). Seminar on 'Equal pay for equal work – continuous challenge' (SAK, STTK, AKAVA). . . . Job evaluation training for shop stewards (various unions).
France Newsletter entitled 'Information on women and equality' (CGT-FO). Book entitled 'Did you say 'equality'?' (CGT). Campaigns (various unions). . . . 'Equality at work' training courses for union members and leaders (CGT).
Germany Campaign for the upgrading of 'typically female' jobs (various unions). Conferences on gender mainstreaming (ver.di). Studies which analyse collectively agreed job evaluation systems (IG Metall). . Efforts to obtain above-average increases in lower wages (various unions). Introduction of gender perspective at all levels of collective bargaining (ver.di). Appointment of a 'gender mainstreaming (GM) commissioner' to organise and supervise GM activities (ver.di). Conferences on gender mainstreaming (ver.di).
Greece . . . Network of female trade unionists established (GSEE). 1993 National General Collective Agreement (which focused on equality issues, see table 3) was to a large extent the work of the GSEE women's secretariat. .
Ireland . . . Equality programme entitled'Delivering gender equality' (ICTU). Report on 'Mainstreaming equality' (integration of equality issues into trade union agenda) (ICTU). .
Italy Conferences (various unions). Manual for managers and trade unionists in small and medium-sized firms (Uil). Research on good practice at company level (Uil). . . Training for union delegates on gender issues at sectoral, territorial and company levels (Cgil, Cisl, Uil).
Luxembourg . . Concertation meetings for the implementation of policies promoting women's employment (employees' chambers). . .
Netherlands . Research projects (various unions). . Bringing cases to court (FNV). Amendment of collective agreements (FNV). .
Norway Campaigns on gender pay equity (various unions). Financing of projects (various unions). . . .
Portugal . . Seminar on 'Pay equity' (various unions) (PT0108163F). NOW-Luna project involving collective reflection and discussion, and diagnosis of discriminatory practices (CGTP) (PT0004190F). . .
Spain Campaigns, publications (on equal opportunities and a guide for collective bargaining), conferences (CC.OO and UGT). Studies (CC.OO and UGT). . Proposals for collective bargaining (CC.OO and UGT). Seminars (on managing equality, job evaluation, equal opportunities) (CC.OO and UGT).
Sweden . . . At least one official in each trade union at national/sector level responsible for gender equality issues (various unions). .
UK Campaigns on gender pay equity (various unions). . . Courses and handbooks on negotiating for equal pay (various unions). Training programme for representatives in carrying out workplace pay reviews (TUC).

Source: EIRO.

Cooperation between the social partners

Cooperative initiatives between the social partners on gender pay equity are rather rare. In most cases, initiatives do not deal directly with pay systems/pay issues. They deal with gender pay inequality indirectly.

In some countries - Austria, Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain - gender pay equity is not an important issue for cooperation between the social partners. In these countries, such cooperation is non-existent or limited to the formation of study groups, provision of training courses and other relatively minor activities. In Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the UK, cooperation between the social partners is still limited but rather more developed (in the UK, this refers to addressing family-related causes of the gender pay gap). In another group of countries, it seems that cooperation between social partners is generally more developed - Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands and Portugal.

A good example of an action seeking to increase public awareness is the publication in 2000 in France of 'Gender pay equity: issues and perspectives' (Egalité de Rémunération Femmes/Hommes. Enjeux et perspectives), a guidebook for collective bargaining Produced at the request of the Higher Council for Equality at Work (Conseil supérieur de l'égalité professionnelle) by the Ministry of Employment and Solidarity. It brought together employers, unions, academics and researchers who are specialists in this field. Its goal was to facilitate the work of negotiators, at both sector and company level, by offering them a number of reference points such as the current pay differentials between male and female employees, and all the issues directly linked to them.

Another good example comes from the Netherlands, where the social partners have jointly developed a checklist on equal pay, an instrument for use when implementing, applying or evaluating pay systems (see table 3). The checklist is intended for bargaining parties at sector or company level, employers, human resource managers and members of works councils. The checklist gives insight into the factors whereby gender bias may occur.

Public authorities and NAPs

As noted above, the recent EU guidelines for Member States' employment policies indicate that the issue of equal pay between women and men is progressively playing a more prominent part in the current European employment strategy and its policy on equal opportunities. However, it is reported from the 15 EU Member States that pay gender equity does not always have a prominent position in National Action Plans (NAPs) implementing the EU guidelines (Norway is not obliged to produce a NAP, as the European employment strategy is not part of the European Economic Area Agreement).

Looking at the 2001 NAPs, gender pay equity is not an issue at all in those of Austria, Finland, and Spain, while the NAPs of Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Sweden include general and fragmentary references to the pay gap between women and men and ways of addressing it.

In France and Germany, although there are no specific initiatives which directly address the issue of gender pay equity, it is reported that the various initiatives on the promotion of women in the labour market contained in these countries' NAPs might have at best an indirect positive impact on gender pay equity. However, the same could be said for the other countries, since the desired objective of the EU equal opportunities policy is to integrate a gender mainstreaming approach for promoting equal opportunities for men and women in all policy areas.

However, there are five countries - Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK- where gender pay equity is a more important issue within the NAPs. The 1999 Belgian NAP focused its anti-discrimination measures on the 'reabsorption' of pay inequality (it states that, 'to promote equal pay for equal work or work of equal value, classifications must be made gender-neutral'), and the 2000 NAP confirmed this approach.

Similarly, the Danish NAP for 2001 includes several points dealing with gender pay equity. First, the government proposed a bill (since adopted, see above under 'Legislation') which, by increasing transparency in wage data, seeks to contribute to uncovering differences in the payment of men and women and thereby improve the conditions for prosecuting cases concerning gender pay inequality. Furthermore, the government has organised a gender pay equity campaign. Several companies have been invited to participate in the establishment of company networks with the object of creating interest in monitoring of equal pay, job evaluation and optimising the use of employees' qualifications. The NAP also reported that the social partners in the municipal and county sectors have initiated a project with the object of drawing up guidance material about the formulation and implementation of wage policies that prevent an unequal distribution based on gender.

Gender pay equity is also an important issue within the Irish NAPs. However there is extensive overlap between the gender provisions contained in the NAP and those contained in the current national agreement, the PPF (see table 3). The Dutch NAP for 2000 included an analysis of two research projects, the first on pay differences (related to gender and ethnicity) and the second on job evaluation systems. The Ministry for Social Affairs and Employment also announced new research to develop gender-neutral job evaluation systems, to be used by the social partners and those drawing up job evaluation schemes, emphasising adequate action by work councils and expecting the social partners to bear the prime responsibility.

Finally, the UK NAP for 2000 identified action in three areas to tackle the gender pay gap:

  • strategies for breaking down gender stereotypes, including a new careers service strategy to encourage young women to stay in education and consider non-typical occupations;
  • help in reconciling work and family life; and
  • working with social partners and non-governmental organisations to address discrimination in pay systems, including simplification of the employment tribunal system and the Equal Opportunities Commission's work.


Although there is significant consensus about the principle of gender pay equity in the EU countries and Norway, this comparative study demonstrates that there is no easy way to accomplish this goal. The principle of equal pay is established in law, the differentiated wage scales of men and women were done away with a long time ago, and today many collective agreements give emphasis to the principle of 'equal pay for equal work'. All things considered, available data nevertheless show a significant wage gap between women and men, and that the move towards a narrowing of wage disparities in working life is progressing slowly.

The general impression is that labour market gender equality, and especially the issue of pay equity, are not central issues in collective bargaining in the EU countries and Norway. There are several reasons that may provide explanations for this. Pay discrimination and pay differences are to a certain degree regarded as a matter of legislation and politics, rather than a problem to be solved through collective agreements. This may be further explained by the fact that existing wage discrepancies between men and women are seen as a consequence of positional differences in working life, which is too big an issue to be solved through negotiations. Furthermore, the pay equity issue, at least in some countries, seems to be seen as less urgent than measures to increase women's employment participation rate, to make it easier to combine work and family, or to ease the re-entry of women (mothers) into working life.

Surprisingly, recourse to labour law – in the form of court cases and complaints to public authorities - is rarely used as a means to combat gender pay discrimination. In most of the countries concerned, the number of such cases is rather limited. However, as many will argue, the most important function of the legal framework is to prevent wage discrimination taking place.

This comparative study also reveals that national authorities and the social partners to a certain extent do aspire to find other and more efficient means than just legal directives, by which to combat wage discrimination. Measures to enable more women to combine work and family life are regarded by many as an indirect means to achieve wage equality. However, such measures also have other purposes, among other goals to increase the employment rate among women, and especially among women with children. There is evidence, however, of the occasional initiative focusing in a more direct way on the wage differences that still exist between women and men.

First, there exists in some of the countries concerned 'proactive legislation' aimed at encouraging a more active stance vis-à-vis the issue of pay equity, among other means by forcing companies to justify existing wage differences between women and men, as well as committing companies to enter into negotiations over equal opportunities measures. Most of these measures are still in their infancy, and as such it is too early to say whether they will bring changes to existing wage structures or not. There are, however, reasons to expect greater efforts and activity than is usually the case in relation to voluntary measures – which are often reported to have had little or no effect.

Second, in many countries we find an increased focus on the 'valuation' of women's and men's labour, often in the form of new job evaluation systems. The idea is that such systems make it possible to uncover – and to put right – underlying discrimination in relation to the valuation of the work carried out by women. There are, however, no reasons to believe that this will automatically lead to a levelling of wages, because one will encounter both practical obstacles in relation to the modification of existing systems, and more profound challenges connected with the development of high-quality and objective systems for comparing often significantly different jobs and occupations.

However, despite the occasional successes and the moderate progress made in the right direction, the only viable conclusion to be drawn from this comparative study is that the road towards pay equity is proving a long one in the EU countries and Norway. Furthermore, it is also evident that there are a variety of reasons for the differences in wages between men and women, and there is no straightforward strategy to combat this problem. There seems to be a general consensus that the most important challenges are related to positional inequalities in the labour market as well as the integration of women into the labour market. (Kristine Nergaard, FAFO Institute for Applied Social Science, and Eva Soumeli, INE-GSEE/ADEDY)

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Add new comment