Equal pay for equal work legislation

In “Deeper and fairer internal market with a strengthened industrial base / Labour”

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The principle that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work has been enshrined in the European Treaties since 1957 (today: Article 157 TFEU) and the right to equal pay for work of equal value was reiterated as a principle in the European Pillar of Social Rights, proclaimed on 17 November 2017.

The current equal pay legislation, Directive 2006/54/EC on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation (recast), replaced a number of earlier legislative acts. However, in view of the slow rate of progress in narrowing the gender pay gap in the European Union and ineffective enforcement of the provisions, the European Parliament has consistently asked the European Commission to present proposals for better implementation and revision of this Directive:

  • In its resolutions on equal pay between men and women of 18 November 2008, 24 May 2012 and 12 September 2013, Parliament urged the Commission to review Directive 2006/54/EC, and put forward its own detailed recommendations.
  • During its 8th term, Parliament undertook its own implementation assessment to follow up the European Commission’s December 2013 report on the application of Directive 2006/54/EC and March 2014 recommendation on pay transparency. Its subsequent resolution of 8 October 2015 stressed that the Directive’s provisions were not being fully applied or enforced and asked the Commission to draw up a legislative proposal to replace it, incorporating the measures on strengthening pay transparency, together with effective means of enforcement, such as mandatory pay audits for large companies. During the 2014-2019 term, Parliament reiterated its call for a new Directive in several other texts and called for measures to address the gender pay gap in a broader context, highlighting the cumulative impact of gender imbalances in pay, overall earnings, family and caring responsibilities and career patterns on women’s pension entitlements and work life balance. It also called for the European Social Fund+ to promote measures to respect the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.

The European Commission made equal pay for equal work and work of equal value one of the five key areas for action in its Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019, including a commitment to assess Directive 2006/54/EC in 2016-2017. In November 2017, the Commission published a new Action Plan on the Gender Pay Gap prioritising eight areas for action, including an assessment of whether amendments should be made to Directive 2006/54/EC, for example to clarify the concept of work of equal value, together with monitoring and evaluation of the existing legislation. The Commission also included evaluation of Directive 2006/54/EC  as one of the priority "REFIT" measures in its work programme for 2019. The assessment is to focus on how the existing legal provisions on equal pay have worked in practice, the approaches that have been implemented in EU Member States, how effectively they are enforced, and the extent to which their initial goals have been reached. In this context, from January to April 2019, the Commission held a public consultation on the implementation of the 'equal pay' principle enshrined in the EU Treaty, Directive 2006/54/EC and the 2014 pay transparency recommendation, focusing on how the 'equal pay' principle is being enforced and problems that have arisen due to a lack of pay transparency measures and divergences in the use of gender-neutral job evaluation systems and standards for protecting victims of pay discrimination across the EU. In her political guidelines, the President of the 2019-2024 European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has promised a new European gender equality strategy, including binding measures to achieve equal pay. The mission letter addressed to the Commissioner-designate for Equality, Helena Dalli, asks for specific proposals on pay transparency.

The European Economic and Social Committee has welcomed the Commission's consultation to evaluate the equal pay provisions in Directive 2006/54/EC and has issued an exploratory opinion for the European Parliament recommending further measures for closing the gender pay gap.

For its part, the Council has called on the Commission to step up efforts to reduce the gender gaps in employment, pay, earnings and pensions. On 15 June 2017, the Council adopted conclusions on making work pay, which identify the gender pay gap as a key problem (point 3), stress the need to ensure that women are able to participate fully in the labour market, and propose measures for promoting gender equality in pay and inclusive labour market policies. In its Conclusions of 7 December 2017, the Council also proposed measures to reduce gender segregation in education and employment, one of the root causes of the gender pay gap. The Council conclusions on closing the gender pay gap adopted on 13 June 2019 urge the Member States to assess and improve measures to ensure the implementation of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value and call on the Commission to follow up its evaluation of the current equal pay legislation by considering amendments to Directive 2006/54/EC.

Main references: 

Further Reading:

  • European Parliament, EPRS, Mapping the Cost of Non-Europe, 2014-19, Fourth edition, 4 December 2017, Chapter 7: Equal pay for equal work
  • European Commission, Gender pay gap EU and country factsheets, November 2017
  • Please see the earlier versions of this carriage for an expanded list of references and reading and the new carriage on the Gender Pay Gap Action Plan for further developments in this particular file.

For full details on the resolutions adopted by Parliament during the 8th term, see the June 2019 version of this carriage.

Author: Rosamund Shreeves, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

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As of 20/11/2019.