|Author (Person)||Cronin, David|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.12, No.14, 20.4.06|
By David Cronin
Laws intended to wipe out gender discrimination in society and the workplace are widely flouted in the EU, the European Commission reveals in its latest annual report on gender equality.
The Commission concludes that "the pay gap between women and men remains at unacceptably high levels and shows no significant signs of being closed".
The gap can be partly attributed to gender disparities in access to education and training, says the Commission, but it is also a sign that EU legislation on fair pay is not being respected.
The 2000 EU directive on employment equality and a race equality directive endorsed by EU governments the same year outlaw discrimination in access to jobs, education, social security, health care and in buying goods or services.
Both recognise that victims of discrimination can take their grievances to court.
Although the directives were swiftly adopted, some EU governments delayed putting them into their national statute books.
In 2004, the Commission announced that it was taking legal action against six EU member states - Austria, Germany, Finland, Greece, Belgium and Luxembourg - for improperly implementing the two laws.
Legal analysts hired by the Commission to evaluate anti-discrimination efforts have found that all six countries have subsequently taken steps to rectify their shortcomings.
Still, the analysts have pinpointed problems in the legal cultures of some of the states concerned. In Austria, they said, jurists tend to regard anti-discrimination laws as "exotic". Lawyers in Germany receive little training on the surrounding issues, the analysts said, while they found that the penalties which can be imposed by Greek courts in discrimination cases were inadequate.
Even before the 2000 directive came into force, the European Court of Justice was being asked to assess gender equality cases. Article 141 of the EC Treaty says that "each member state shall ensure that the principle of equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or work of equal value shall be applied".
But "there is an extreme variation among EU member states on the cases that are brought in this area", Miguel Poiares Maduro, an advocate-general at the Luxembourg-based court, said last year. "The UK and Germany have brought many sex discrimination cases, while Portugal has not brought any."
Some of the more controversial cases handled by the court have related to affirmative action for women - policies designed to give preference to female applicants for jobs.
Because affirmative action can be interpreted as discrimination against men, the court has found it must be reconciled with the principle of equal treatment. As the advocate-general argued, the court's case law can allow for women to be given preference in cases where they have equal qualifications to male candidates for a particular job, if women are under- represented in the sector in question.
Yet measures that involve closed competitions or automatic preference for women cannot be accepted, according to the court.
Another gender discrimination issue that EU policymakers have had to grapple with in recent years is insurance.
At present, women tend to get cheaper motor insurance than men because statistics suggest they are less likely to have road accidents. Yet women are frequently charged more for life insurance because they have higher life expectancies than men.
While the Commission had proposed an EU directive on equal treatment of men and women in services, a compromise was reached by the Union's governments on insurance in 2004.
This allowed gender to be used as a criterion in calculating insurance, provided it can be supported with data illustrating that men and women are prone to differing levels of risk.
Article takes a look at the European Union's legislative action against gender discrimination.
|Subject Categories||Employment and Social Affairs|
|Countries / Regions||Europe|