Pledge to cut EU gender pay gap after 15 years without progress

European commissioner for fundamental rights refuses to rule out legislation to promote wage equality

The pay gap between men and women in Europe has barely changed for the better in 15 years, the European commission said today, while pledging to narrow the gap significantly within five years.

The situation in Britain was worse than average, with women in the UK being paid 79% of male rates, while across the 27 countries of the EU the figure was 82%, according to a survey from Eurobarometer timed to coincide with International Women’s Day on Monday.

Viviane Reding, a European commissioner for fundamental rights including gender equality, pledged to step up a campaign for equal pay and to combat gender violence, saying she did not rule out European legislation to promote wage equality.

Later this year, said José Manuel Barroso, the commission president, Brussels would deliver a “women’s charter”, a five-year plan aimed at redressing the inequalities in pay which ranged from under 5% in Italy to 30% per cent in Estonia.

The commission said it “plans to raise awareness among employers, encourage initiatives to promote gender equality, and support the development of tools to measure the gender pay gap. On the other hand, new legal measures are not excluded.”

Reding said: “I am deeply concerned that the gender pay gap has barely fallen over the last 15 years and in some countries it is even increasing.”

The opinion survey found that 62% of Europeans believed inequality between the sexes was widespread, with between 40% and 44% calling for better care facilities for children and the elderly, flexible working, and straightforward pay rises for women in order to redress the imbalance.

“Tackling the gender pay gap will be one of the main priorities,” said the commission today, vowing “to use all available instruments, both legislative and non-legislative, to reduce the gender pay gap”.

Any European law proposals seeking to compel a level playing field would need to win the backing of all 27 governments as well as being endorsed by the European parliament.

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