EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Equal pay


Article 157 TFEU gives 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 shall be calculated on the basis of the same unit of measurement;
  • that pay for work at time rates shall be the same for the same job.

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 women and men, states that the principle of equal pay, 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 (Article 1).

Article 157 TFEU (then Article 119 EC) was held to have direct effect by the decision of the European Court of Justice in Gabrielle Defrenne v. Sabena, Case 43/75. It has also become the basis for numerous other claims before national courts and references to the ECJ.

The Commission adopted a Code of Practice on the implementation of equal pay for women and men for work of equal value on 17 July 1996. The Code provides advice to the social partners on developing pay structures based on job classification and job evaluation schemes.

Despite this, a European Parliament resolution on equal pay of 20 September 2001 noted an average wage gap of 28% between women and men in the EU at that time. Even when structural differences such as age, training, occupation and career patterns are taken into account, the average differential was still 15%.

EU initiatives since then include the launch in 2006 of an EU roadmap for equality between women and men 2006-2010, and a 2007 Commission Communication on tackling the pay gap between women and men, in which it 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 (EU0708049I). Most recently, the European Commission has launched its Strategy for equality between men and women 2010-2015, one of the priorities of which is to promote equal pay for work of equal value in the EU. Further, in a resolution on equality between women and men in the European Union, issued in 2010, the European Parliament criticised the persistence of the gender pay gap in Europe, demanded a better implementation of the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ and deplored the fact that the European Commission had not yet made a legislative proposal on that subject.

Despite all the efforts of the EU and of individual Member States over the past 10 years, the gender pay gap remains an average of 20% in the EU, according to data based on 24 countries issued in 2010 by the Belgian Presidency of the EU. Further, a Eurofound study as of 2010 on addressing the gender pay gap quotes Eurostat figures from 2007 that place the average gender pay gap at 17.6%. The study maps national research studies on the ‘adjusted’ gender pay gap, finding that the gender pay gap ranges from between 4% in Denmark to 30% in Cyprus. The study also shows that the actions of the social partners – through centralised collective bargaining or the establishment and increase of minimum wages, for example – could narrow the gap substantially.

The most recent Eurostat figures, which are provisional and relate to 2009, put the gender pay gap at 17.1% on average in the EU27, slightly less than the 17.6% recorded for 2008. Nevertheless, there remain wide variations in the gender pay gap between EU Member States, ranging from 2% in Malta to over 25% in Estonia, Austria and the Czech Republic (2008 figures – 2007 for Estonia).

See also: direct effect; discrimination; equality between women and men; gender equality; gender pay gap; horizontal direct effect; 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.


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