When it comes to equal pay, Germany has regular protests, plenty of initiatives and even an anti-discrimination law. Even so, the salary gap between men and women continues to widen -- with women getting the short end of the stick. On Friday, Germany's Federal Statistical Office in the western city of Wiesbaden published figures showing that average gross hourly earnings for women in 2008 were 23.2 percent lower than they were for men.
They also showed that things are getting alarmingly worse. In 2007, the gap was 23 percent; in 2006, 22.7 percent.
What's more, the gender pay gap in Germany is much wider than the European Union average of 18 percent. Out of the other 26 EU member states, the gap was only wider in Estonia (most recent figures, 2007: 30.3 percent), the Czech Republic (26.2 percent), Austria (25.5 percent) and the Netherlands (most recent figures, 2007: 23.6 percent).
The EU countries with the narrowest gender-related income gaps, on the other hand, were Italy (4.9 percent), Slovenia (8.5 percent), Romania and Belgium (with 9 percent each), and Malta and Portugal (with 9.2 percent each).
At the same time, the figures do not reflect income differences for men and women in the same position, performing comparable tasks and with corresponding education levels. Among the causes for the discrepancy are the facts that more women work part-time jobs, there is a higher proportion of women in low-paying jobs and women are often denied access to management positions.
An "Unacceptable" Situation
In response to the publication of the figures, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Viviane Reding told the German daily Die Welt that they are "unacceptable" and indicate the continued presence of latent discrimination. "In economic terms," she said, "Germany is one of the most developed countries. As such, it should be a good role model rather than a straggler. I expect more ambition and more drive."
On Friday, Reding presented the findings of the Eurobarometer poll on Gender Equality at a meeting in Brussels. "I am deeply concerned that the gender pay gap has barely fallen over the last 15 years and, in some countries, it is ever increasing," she said. "In these times of crisis, the gender pay gap is a cost Europe cannot afford." Quoting studies, she told Die Welt that closing the gender pay gap could lead to a 30 percent increase in GDP.
Reding added that she was determined to address income inequality between men and women as quickly as possible. "As long as I'm in office," she told the newspaper, "I am going to do everything I can to work with member states on significantly narrowing the gender pay gap in the EU." Such measures could include raising awareness among employers, encouraging initiatives to promote gender equality and supporting the development of tools to measure the gender pay gap. At Friday's meeting, she also noted that she does not rule out introducing new legislation to help narrow the gap.
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