EU wants employers to report pay levels to fix gender gap

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference at the end of an EU summit in Brussels, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg joined a videoconference with EU leaders on Friday, to focus on ways to boost cooperation and avoid doubling up on security issues between the military alliance and the 27-nation bloc. (Johanna Geron, Pool via AP)

BRUSSELS – The European Union executive wants to force employers to be much more open about how much their staff earn to make it easier for women to challenge wage imbalances and close the gender pay gap.

Even though the gender pay gap across the 27-nation bloc has been reduced to 14% for people doing exactly the same work, the European Commission wants to eliminate the disparity by imposing specific rules to make pay levels public.

“For equal pay, you need transparency. Women must know whether their employers treat them fairly," said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Since its inception in 1957, the European Union has sought to end such gender bias, but progress has been slow over the decades. When it comes to pension rights, reflecting working conditions of the past 30 to 40 years, the gender gap still stands at 30%.

Wage conditions and scales in Europe have long been shrouded in secrecy, which has helped extend inequality and proved to be a big hurdle for those demanding pay justice.

And companies have fallen far short in helping bridge the gap, said EU Vice President Vera Jourova. “We have sufficiently strong evidence that we need to have binding rules and not only to rely on social responsibility of the companies because we see that it doesn’t lead anywhere," she said.

She said that over the past 7 years, the gap had closed only by little over 2 percentage points. “You can imagine if we continue like that, we will achieve pay fairness some time in several decades. So we cannot continue like that."

Under the commission's proposals, employers would have to give information about initial pay levels in the vacancy announcement and ahead of the job interview, during which employers will not be allowed to ask about applicants' previous pay grades.