Gender Pay Gap Action Plan

In “A New Push for European Democracy”

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As things stand, a gap between women’s and men’s pay (gender pay gap) persists across the EU and progress towards closing it has stalled over the past 5 years. The European Commission’s 2019 report on equality between women and men finds that the gender pay gap remained practically unchanged between 2014 and 2017, falling only 0.3 percentage points. This means that on average, women in the EU earn 16% less per hour than men do (varying between countries, from 3.5% in Romania to 25.6% in Estonia). Around one third of this wage difference can be ascribed to differences in average characteristics of working men and women, related to factors such as age, education, and type of occupation. However, around two thirds of the wage difference remains unexplained. Data limitations make it difficult to account exhaustively for this part of the gender pay gap, but factors include women taking career breaks following childbirth and discrimination in hiring, career progression and opportunities in the labour market. 

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 is laid down in EU legislation on gender equality in employment (Directive 2006/54/EC). The principle of equal pay for work of equal value was reiterated as a principle in the European Pillar of Social Rights, proclaimed on 17 November 2017 and tackling the gender pay gap is one of the priorities of the European Commission’s Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019.

On 20 November 2017, the European Commission published a new Action Plan on the Gender Pay Gap, which it is to deliver by the end of 2019, as part of social policy. The Action Plan, which is accompanied by an evaluation of the Commission’s 2014 pay transparency recommendation, prioritizes eight areas for action to address the underlying causes of the gender pay gap:

  1. Improving the application of the equal pay principle - including a consideration of possible amendments to the existing legislation;
  2. Combating segregation in occupations and sectors;
  3. Breaking the glass ceiling: initiatives to combat vertical segregation;
  4. Tackling the care penalty;
  5. Better valorising women's skills, efforts and responsibilities;
  6. Fighting the fog: unveiling inequalities and stereotypes;
  7. Alerting and informing about the gender pay gap;
  8. Enhancing partnerships to tackle the gender pay gap.

From January to April 2019, the Commission held a public consultation to gather information from a range of stakeholders on the impact of the existing legislation and pay transparency recommendations. On 12 February 2019, the Commissioner, Vera Jourova informed the plenary that the measures set out in the plan would be completed by the end of the year. In her political guidelines, the President-elect 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 Parliament has drawn attention to the persistence and roots of the gender pay gap on numerous occasions and called for specific action to tackle it, including new legislation to replace Directive 2006/54/EC.  As of July 2019, Parliament has not yet taken a position on the Gender Pay Gap Action Plan. Its Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality held a hearing to analyse the plan on 9 July 2018.

The European Economic and Social Committee has welcomed the plan, but called for additional measures to address the underlying gender stereotypes that affect career choices and additional resources to implement it, including financing for childcare facilities and long-term care services, as part of the Multi-annual Financial Framework. The EESC's exploratory opinion for the European Parliament also recommends further measures for addressing 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. In June 2017, the Council conclusions on making work pay  identified the gender pay gap as a key problem. In December 2017, the Council proposed measures to reduce gender segregation in education and employment, one of the root causes of the gender pay gap. In June 2019, it adopted conclusions on closing the gender pay gap, urging the Member States to take effective measures to close it, drawing on the Commission's Action Plan. In December 2019, the Council asked the Commission and Member States to take concrete and effective measures to close the gender gaps in employment and pay, beyond the current EU gender pay gap action plan.

Further Reading:

Please see the departure demands carriage on Equal pay for equal work legislation in Train 4D, for a detailed overview of Parliament’s earlier recommendations for review of the equal pay legislation and addressing the gender pay and pension gaps.

Author: Marie Lecerf,  Members' Research Service,

Visit the European Parliament homepage on Social Europe

As of 20/06/2024.