The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) has found violations of the right to equal pay and the right to equal opportunities in the workplace in 14 out of 15 countries which apply the European Social Charter’s collective complaints procedure: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Slovenia. Only Sweden was found to be compliant with the Charter.
“The gender pay gap is unacceptable in modern societies, yet it continues to be one of the main obstacles to achieving real equality. European governments must urgently step up efforts to ensure equal opportunities in the workplace. And more countries should use the Council of Europe’s Social Charter as one means of reaching that goal,” said Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe.
Complaints to the ECSR, which monitors the implementation of the Charter, were lodged by the international NGO University Women of Europe (UWE). While the ECSR found that all 15 countries concerned had satisfactory legislation recognising the right to equal pay for equal work, it found various violations – bar Sweden – primarily due to insufficient progress in reducing the gender pay gap, but in some cases also due to lack of pay transparency in the labour market, ineffective legal remedies and the insufficient powers and resources of national gender equality bodies. Moreover, despite quota arrangements and other measures, women also continue to be under-represented in decision-making positions within private companies. The ECSR noted that the gender pay gap had narrowed in some countries, but progress was insufficient.
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The European Committee of Social Rights adopted 15 decisions on state compliance launched by UWE for violations of the European Social Charter
The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) has adopted 15 decisions (see links below) on state compliance with the right to equal pay, as well as the right to equal opportunities in the workplace, following complaints which were lodged within the framework of the collective complaints procedure by University Women Europe (UWE) on August 24, 2016. The decisions concern the 15 States which have accepted the complaints procedure (Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden), were adopted by the ECSR on 5 and 6 December 2019 and became public today, 29 June 2020. “It’s up to you to make them effective, to disseminate them as widely as possible in the countries of the European continent. It’s up to you to continue the fight so that this deep injustice of unequal wages between women and men ceases, as well as the absence or the few women on the boards of directors of companies and executive committees. Good luck with these actions!” – Dr. Anne Bergheim-Nègre, President UWE.
The decisions identify clear and strong standards in the field of equal pay and, more precisely, they require that the right to equal pay has to be guaranteed in law. The ECSR has identified the following obligations for States:
- To recognise the right to equal pay for equal work or work of equal value in their legislation;
- To ensure access to effective remedies for victims of pay discrimination;
- To ensure and guarantee pay transparency and enable pay comparisons;
- To maintain effective equality bodies and relevant institutions in order to ensure equal pay in practice.
Moreover, the right to equal pay implies the obligation to adopt measures to promote it. This obligation has two elements: on the one hand, collecting reliable and standardised data to measure and analyse the gender pay gap and, on the other hand, designing effective policies and measures aimed at reducing the gender pay gap on the basis of an analysis of the data collected. The States are also under an obligation to show measurable progress in reducing the gender pay gap.
The ECSR acknowledges that the gender pay gap is no longer solely or even primarily a result of discrimination as such. The gap arises mainly from differences in the so-called “average characteristics” of women and men in the labour market. These differences result from many factors, such as horizontal segregation, where there is the concentration of one sex in certain economic activities (sectoral gender segregation) or the concentration of one sex in certain occupations (occupational gender segregation), as well as vertical segregation. The decisions highlight the positive obligations of States to tackle these phenomena in the labour market, including by promoting the advancement of women in decision-making positions within private companies.
14 out of the 15 States were found to be in violation of one or more of the above-mentioned aspects of the obligation to guarantee the right to equal pay and the right to equal opportunities in the workplace. However, the ECSR also noted various positive developments. Measures taken by some States in recent years have led to some progress in reducing the gender pay gap, but the progress is slow. The ECSR’s decisions clearly demonstrate that problems and practices, such as segregation in the labour market, lack of pay transparency, secrecy regarding pay levels, obstacles to access effective remedies and retaliatory dismissals continue to exist and prevent full realisation of the equal pay principle.
The decisions on the merits of the complaints lodged by UWE:
French Version here:
The University Women of Europe have filled collective complaints against the European Social Charter in 15 countries stating women are not treated equal as they earn structurally less than men for equal work. As an international INGO, UWE is allowed to submit a collective complaint of violation of the European Social Charter.
The complaints for violation of the European Social Charter for equal pay for equal work between man and women against the following states: Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden can be found on the website of the COE. Only 15 countries in 47 states members of the Council of Europe accept collective complaints.
“ It is a first in many ways: 15 complaints at the same time! Once they have been 7 complaints on the same subject, never 15 collective complaints. Never any complaint on Equal pay for Equal work” stated Anne Negre, Gender Equality Expert of the INGO Conference of the Council of Europe. It is also the first time that the necessity of equal pay for women and men is addressed in this way.
President of University Women of Europe, Edith Lommerse about collective complaints :”This is a necessary step. So far discussion has been on the mechanism and the reasons behind the pay gap, but the outcome is still the same. Women’s work is valued less and in a lot of cases women need to have more qualifications and or more knowledge to be paid equally. It is good to know that some universities have started to pay women the difference like the University of Waterloo. We aim to make governments more aware of the need to make reparations for women. It is not enough anymore to say the intentions are good but the practice makes it difficult. We need to get this obstacle for equality out of the way. ”
The European Social Charter is a Council of Europe treaty that guarantees fundamental social and economic rights as a counterpart to the European Convention on Human Rights, which refers to civil and political rights. It guarantees a broad range of everyday human rights related to employment, housing, health, education, social protection and welfare.
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