‘How much do you earn?’ Ger­many takes on gen­der pay gap

Manila Times - - OPINION - AFP

BER­LIN: It’s one of the last great taboos: ask­ing a col­league how much they earn. But Ger­many is hop­ing work­ers will do just that un­der a new law that aims to close the coun­try’s yawn­ing gen­der pay gap.

The leg­is­la­tion, which came into ef­fect in Europe’s top econ­omy on Jan­uary 6, gives an em­ployee the right to know how their salary com­pares with that of col­leagues of the op­po­site sex do­ing sim­i­lar work.

“Other peo­ple’s salaries are still a taboo sub­ject and a black box in Ger­many,” said act­ing Women’s Af­fairs Min­is­ter Kata­rina Bar­ley whose So­cial Demo­cratic Party cham­pi­oned the law.

The hope is that more trans­parency will re­veal whether women are paid less than male peers -- and bol­ster their de­mands for a rise or pave the way for pos­si­ble le­gal ac­tion.

The new reg­u­la­tions how­ever only ap­ply to com­pa­nies with more than 200 em­ploy­ees about their col­leagues’ pay slips.

Busi­nesses with over 500 staff mem­bers will ad­di­tion­ally be re­quired to pub­lish reg­u­lar up­dates on salary struc­tures to show they are com­ply­ing with equal pay rules.

Sup­port­ers say the leg­is­la­tion is a good start­ing point, and hope women across the coun­try will seize the op­por­tu­nity to shed light on wage in­equal­ity.

what ex­actly is go­ing on in our com­pa­nies,” said Uta Zech, president of the Ger­man branch of the Busi­ness and Pro­fes­sional Women (BPW) cam­paign group.

But the leg­is­la­tion has al­ready faced a tor­rent of crit­i­cism, with de­trac­tors say­ing it is too com­pli­cated, lacks teeth and will fos­ter work­place an­i­mos­ity.

21 per­cent

The law comes at a time when equal­ity be­tween the sexes is dom­i­nat­ing public de­bate.

Zech said the dis­cus­sion is par­tic­u­larly wel­come in Ger­many, which has one of the Euro­pean Union’s big­gest gen­der wage gaps.

Women here earned around 21 per­cent less than men in 2016, ac­cord­ing to of around 16 per­cent.

In part, this is be­cause women in Ger­many tend more of­ten to work in low-paid jobs or part time.

do­ing the same work as men, the pay gap stands at around six per­cent.

“We are a rich coun­try. Why can’t we achieve salary equal­ity?” asked Zech.

‘Pa­per tiger’

But Ger­many’s pay slip trans­parency doesn’t mean hu­man re­sources will re­veal ex­actly how much the per­son in the next cu­bi­cle makes.

what the me­dian salary is of at least six col­leagues in com­pa­ra­ble jobs.

Here, crit­ics say the devil is in the de­tail. If, for ex­am­ple, three men each earn 1,500 eu­ros ($1,800), 1,500 eu­ros and 3,000 eu­ros a month, their av­er­age salary would be 2,000 eu­ros.

But the me­dian pay -- or the num­ber in the mid­dle of the line-up -- is just 1,500 eu­ros.

Thuesing, a la­bor law pro­fes­sor.

Op­po­nents say it is also too easy for bosses to come up with ex­cuses to jus­tify wage dif­fer­ences.

“An em­ployer can wrig­gle out of it by say­ing ‘ But Mr Maier bears more re­spon­si­bil­i­ties’ or ‘ Mr Sch­midt has more client con­tacts’,” Spiegel On­line jour­nal­ist Ver­ena Toep­per wrote.

“The law is a pa­per tiger. It won’t change any­thing.”

Meier, a re­porter for public broad­caster ZDF who took her boss to court af­ter learn­ing that a male col­league’s net in­come was big­ger than her gross salary.

The judge last year threw out her dis­crim­i­na­tion claim, rul­ing that the col­league had sim­ply “ne­go­ti­ated bet­ter”. “It’s called cap­i­tal­ism,” he said.

Some crit­ics warn that the new law will stoke re­sent­ment, point­ing to stud­ies that show work­ers re­port­ing lower job less than their peers.

“The right to de­mand salary in­for­ma­tion will fos­ter work­place envy and dis­con­tent,” con­ser­va­tive law­maker Chris­tian von Stet­ten told Die Welt daily when the law was passed last July.

World first

Other Euro­pean coun­tries have re­cently taken sim­i­lar steps to lift the lid on salary se­crecy -- with a bit more bite.

em­ploy­ees to pub­lish de­tails of their gen­der pay gap by April -- with sanc­tions an op­tion if com­pa­nies refuse to com­ply.

And Ice­land this year en­acted a law that prove they are pay­ing men and women the coun­try in the world to do so.

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