Briefing note: ETUC Response to the European Commission Proposal for a Directive to Strengthen the application of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between men and women through pay transparency and enforcement mechanisms


Although there has been European law on equal pay for women and men for 45 years, the gender pay gap in the European Union is still unacceptably large at over 14%. At the current very slow rate of progress, pay equality will not be achieved across the European Union until the next century (2104) and will never be reached in some Member States.

The need for action is made more urgent as the impact of the coronavirus outbreak threatens to undermine what gender equality progress has been made. The legacy of Covid cannot be allowed to be less equal pay, particularly as the majority of essential and front-line workers are women. It cannot be acceptable, if it ever was, to refer to these workers as low skilled. They have proven just how essential they are to the enterprise, organisation, society and economy. Of the 49 million care workers in the EU, around 76% are women; women account for 82% of all cashiers in retail and 95% of workers in domestic cleaning and home help. The essential role played by these workers during the Covid pandemic calls for a systematic re-evaluation of their pay, so that their true contribution is properly valued and paid.

Pay Transparency as an enabling condition for pay justice

The ETUC, in its Resolution on Gender Pay Transparency adopted 22nd October 2019, called for greater pay transparency as a means to assist trade unions to bargain for measures to help to close the gender pay gap. So, it is progress that the European Commission has on 4th March 2021 finally published a proposal for a Gender Pay Transparency Directive.

Two steps forward, one step back

The Directive does contain good principles and intentions that we can welcome. The Directive will give each worker, in both the public and private sectors, the right to get certain information about their pay and about pay in the organisation they work for, and employers are required to publish annual reports on the gender pay gap, and to take action to tackle the gap. The Directive will certainly help to reduce secrecy on pay and expose pay inequality. But while containing these good principles, the Directive does not do enough to be the game changer it needs to be. Instead, the proposed Directive puts a number of obstacles in the way of women workers securing the pay equality they deserve and are entitled to. The ETUC will campaign strongly to secure amendments to address the deficiencies. 

For more information on the ETUC's key demands, please see the briefing note below.