Analysis. Two months of the year, European women work for free — a statistical fact that the EU Commission hopes to examine. Out of 100 jobs lost in Europe since the pandemic, 46 are female, but in Italy this figure rises to 56 out of 100.

European Commission looks to wage transparency to combat labor inequality

Covid is a spotlight that has also exacerbated pre-existing injustices and inequalities. These include the wage differences between men and women, as well as the employment rate. To counterattack, the EU Commission is proposing measures on “wage transparency,” considered by President Ursula von der Leyen to be “a political priority.”

“Equal work requires equal wages and for there to be equal wages, transparency is needed,” Von der Leyen said this week. “Women must know if their employer treats them fairly and if not, they must have the power to fight and get what they are entitled to.”

The Commission will then submit a proposal to the European Parliament, a directive that member states will have two years to transpose into their national laws. In addition to transparency measures, the directive will allow better access to justice for victims of discrimination. This directive should give a boost to the Gender Equality Strategy, a program in place from 2020 to 2025. Equality between men and women is indeed a principle contained in the Treaties (Article 157) and the subject of a 2014 recommendation.

But reality tells another story. Women are less present on the labor market than men: there are 11.7 points of difference in the employment rate in Europe, according to Eurostat (2019 data, pre-Covid), which notes 79% of employed men and 67.3% of women (smaller differences in Lithuania, Sweden, Finland, greater in Italy, Greece, Malta).

In terms of wages, the gap is 14.8% and not much has changed over the past decade. Women are over-represented in low-paying jobs, while men account for 80% of those employed in the highest-paying professions. Women are more present in part-time jobs (32.9% the European average, four times that of men), a good percentage not chosen. Furthermore, women work fewer hours in paid jobs and more hours in unpaid ones (at home, nursing, etc.).

Then there is the usual glass ceiling: Fewer than 10% of the CEOs of large companies are women. Among managers the salaries of women are 23% lower than those of men. And the gap increases between high wages.

Within the EU, different situations coexist, aggravated by Covid. The case of Italy is emblematic. According to a survey by the Foundation for Labor Consultants Studies, the pandemic has widened the gap: the number of women with a job in Italy has decreased by double the EU average (minus 4.1%, against an average of minus 2.1% — only Spain is worse than Italy with minus 5.2), while the wage gap grew by 1.7 points (while in Spain only by 0.4).

Out of 100 jobs lost in Europe, 46 are female, but in Italy this figure rises to 56 out of 100, an ignominious record (44 in France, 48 in Spain, one-third for Austria, Portugal, Greece).

On Monday there will be a march in Paris to demand an improvement in favor of the workers who have kept the company on its feet during the long months of Covid.

Trade unions and NGOs recall that “the salaried workers applauded from the balconies are mostly women: nurses, domestic workers, cashiers.” In France every year it is remembered that women work for free from 3:35 p.m. on Nov. 6 until the end of the year. In the EU there is the Equal pay day, set for Nov. 3 (the average date of the start of free work).

The wage gap varies from country to country: it ranges from 3% in Luxembourg and Romania to more than 20% on average for Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Estonia.

Wage differences are greater in the private sector than in the public sector. In Germany for example this gap reaches 22.7%, due to the strong presence of part-time workers.

How long will it take to achieve parity? According to the current trajectory, in France it will take a thousand years (from 2010 the gap decreases by only 0.1% per year), in nine EU states it will take a hundred years, while in Luxembourg it will be reached in 2027, in Belgium in 2028 and in Hungary in 2031. In Romania it will already be in 2022, but only because wages are low for everyone.

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