The EU labor ministers evidently did not want to wait any longer for “Equal Pay Day” next year.

In the spring of this very symbolic date, the European Commission presented a proposal to close the wage gap.

Statistically speaking, women work “for free” up to this point, while men are paid from January 1st.

In Germany, the upcoming “Equal Pay Day” is on March 7, 2022. This corresponds to an (unadjusted) wage gap of 18 percent.

In the EU it is an average of 14 percent.

The Commission wants to change that primarily through more transparency in wages.

The EU labor ministers have now backed the proposal at a meeting in Brussels.

Hendrik Kafsack

Business correspondent in Brussels.

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"There is simply no justification for the fact that women continue to earn less than their male colleagues," said Slovenian Labor Minister and incumbent EU Council President Janez Cigler Kralj. The agreement is a big step in the fight against discrimination against women and to close the wage gap. With the new EU law, employees in EU countries are entitled to information about the salary of colleagues in a comparable position. This corresponds to the German Remuneration Transparency Act of 2017, but, unlike this, does not only apply from a company size of 2000 employees. Small and medium-sized companies are also affected.

In addition, the wages of employees of other companies or hypothetical comparisons can be used for comparison in individual cases.

Otherwise, too, the agreement reached by the labor ministers goes beyond German law.

Companies with more than 250 employees are required to review their salary structure once a year.

They not only have to report this information to the responsible authorities, their employees and the works council, but also make it publicly available on the Internet.

EU rules provide for claims for damages

If the annual recording of wages shows that the wage gap between men and women in groups with comparable tasks is greater than 5 percent and the company cannot justify this with objective and gender-neutral criteria, it must analyze the reasons with the employee representatives and find specific Suggest steps to change that.

In addition, the new EU rules provide for very extensive claims for damages. These should not only be based on the lost wages and bonus payments, but should also compensate the employees for lost career opportunities and the experience of disadvantage themselves. Member States are not allowed to limit it to a maximum amount. The Commission always wanted to place the burden of proof on the company in the event of a proceeding. You would then have to prove that you have not disadvantaged an employee. The Council of Ministers has weakened this slightly and limited it to cases in which employees were unable to recognize their disadvantage, for example due to a lack of wage transparency.

According to EU law, courts or the competent national authorities can also oblige companies to act in other ways against excessive wage differentials, for example by revising the in-house remuneration rules or corresponding training programs for the responsible employees in the HR department. According to the EU Commission, the costs of complying with the new requirements are manageable. Answering individual questions about colleagues' salaries would cost around 20 euros per request. The reporting requirements for companies with more than 250 employees cost them between 380 and 900 euros per year.

After the member states, the European Parliament now has to vote on its position.

That is expected to happen in February.

It is very likely that MEPs will support the Commission's proposals.

The Council of Ministers and the European Parliament then have to agree on a common position so that the EU law can come into force.

That shouldn't happen before the next German “Equal Pay Day”.