Call for law that would allow women to monitor pay gap

Germany’s women’s affairs minister, Manuela Schwesig, has called for a law that would force companies to allow female employees to see how their salaries compare with those of male colleagues. Schwesig, from the Social Democratic Party (SPD), says the move would help tackle the gender pay gap, but it has met with staunch opposition from industry bodies.

She says more transparency is needed to combat the continuing discrepancy between the amounts earned by men and women working in similar positions. Under the new “equal wages” law, companies would be obliged to publish their salary structures. “It would not be possible to see the salaries of individual colleagues, but it would be possible for employees to check their own wages against a comparable group,” said Schwesig on Sunday.

But industry bodies said the introduction of such legislation could lead to “unrest” and “dissatisfaction” within companies. Holger Schwannecke, secretary general of the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts, told the Guardian that new legislation is unnecessary and could foster a “climate of mistrust” between colleagues. “The unions and employers take their responsibilities in terms of equal pay for men and women seriously,” he said. “A difference in pay between men and women for the same work and the same employer is also already not allowed.”

Instead of such legislation – which he argued could increase the burden on business – he said that women should be encouraged to enter male-dominated or technology-orientated professions where they could earn better salaries.

Schwesig’s plans were also met with a backlash from members within the ruling government coalition, of which the SPD is a part. Christian von Stetten, chairman of the parliamentary group on small and medium-sized businesses for the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said: “Ms Schwesig should forget about such ideas,” adding that businesses are burdened enough with the women’s quota, care periods and the minimum wage.

Help in negotiation
Despite the criticism, some have praised the proposals. Henrike von Platen, president of Business and Professional Women – Germany, which is running the Equal Pay Day campaign, told the Guardian that women often ask for lower wages than men, but that knowing what others in a similar position earn could help them in negotiations.

“If employers justify the salary differences, it contributes to a transparent corporate culture and can lead to more trust, co-operation and appreciation among employees,” she said. “Transparency takes secrecy and the demotivating subject of salary discrepancy off the table. This enables every organisation to better achieve its goals.”

In their coalition agreement, the CDU and the SPD agreed to promote equal wages through salary transparency. However, the agreement was originally meant to target companies with more than 500 employees. According to German news magazine Der Spiegel, Schwesig is now calling for all companies to be subject to any forthcoming regulations.

Speaking recently, Schwesig said: “The wage gap between men and women is unfair. In the coalition talks, we agreed to fight against this wage discrepancy. Therefore, this ministry will bring forward legal regulations this year.”

According to figures published by the federal ministry of family affairs, senior citizens, women and youth, men earn on average 22% more than women, making the pay discrepancy in Germany one of the highest in the European Union. – © Guardian News and Media 2015

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