BRUSSELS — Pushing member states to address salary disparities between men and women, the European Union revealed details on Thursday of a proposed law that would require companies to divulge gender pay gaps and give job candidates access to salary information in employment interviews. It also would provide women with better tools to fight for equal pay.
The move comes as female workers across the world have been disproportionately affected by the economic repercussions of the coronavirus crisis, and it could lead to sanctions on companies that do not comply.
The proposed law would also empower women to verify if they are being fairly compensated in comparison with male colleagues. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, wants to provide workers with the ability to seek proper compensation in case of discrimination.
Under the proposed law, those who believe they are victims could take action through independent monitors of compliance with the equal-pay requirement. They could also press gender-based pay grievances through workers’ representatives, either as individuals or in groups.
European Institute for Gender Equality, a research group, female managers earn a quarter less than male ones.
Despite several efforts to enforce equal pay in practice, for more than 60 years it seemed out of reach for women across the bloc, which presents itself as the beacon of human rights and equality. So far, only 10 European countries, including Austria, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, have introduced national legislation on pay transparency.
The proposed E.U.-wide law requires approval by member countries and the European Parliament. There are concerns that it might be blocked by national governments, as happened with the European Commission’s proposal to introduce gender quotas on management boards. Wary of these potential obstacles, Vera Jourova, the bloc’s top official for values and transparency, called the proposal on pay “pure pragmatism and good economic calculations,” underlining that gender equality at work benefited businesses.
2020 Women in Work Index, compiled annually across 33 developed countries by PricewaterhouseCoopers, a consultancy, economic damage from the pandemic, as well as repercussions from government policies, is disproportionately affecting women. This has reversed the steady trend of gains for women in employment and has led to what the consultancy calls a “shecession.”
Women’s rights groups welcomed the commission’s initiative. “Information is power: pay transparency would enable employees to know the value of their work and negotiate salaries accordingly,” said Carlien Scheele, director of the European Institute for Gender Equality. “This would help tackle discrimination in the workplace, which can only be a boon for gender equality.”
Employers, aware of the proposal’s possible legal and economic repercussions, were careful in their assessment, blaming what they described as deep underlying reasons for gender inequalities.