The World From Berlin: Wage Discrimination Hurting German Women and Economy

New figures show the wage gap between men and women in Germany is 22 percent, among the biggest in the European Union. The gap reflects blatant discrimination against women in the workplace which is putting the economy at risk, write German media commentators.

In Germany women earn far less than men.
DPA

In Germany women earn far less than men.

Women employees get a raw deal in Germany, earning 22 percent less than men on average, according to a new study by the European Union. Germany's male-female wage differentials are among the biggest in the EU, with only Estonia, Cyprus and Slovakia having bigger pay gaps, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Vladimir Spidla told German newspaper Die Welt this week.

Media commentators writing in Germany's newspapers Tuesday blame a lack of adequate child care provisions and outdated labor rules. By thwarting women's careers, Europe's largest economy is depriving itself of a much-needed pool of skilled labor, they say. But one paper says the "self-satisfied" women's movement has much to answer for because it hasn't done enough to push for improved women's pay.

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"The Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA) denies discrimination and talks about objective causes. Reasons such as child-related career interruptions may be 'objective.' But they lead to women getting less pay than men for doing the same work. The principle of seniority in German wage contracts blocks off women's ascent into higher wage brackets if they spend a few years away -- even if they do exactly the same job when they return as their colleague at the next desk. That, too, is a form of discrimination.

"Regardless of the discrimination issue, it's a problem for the economy, which is crying out for skilled employees, if women are thwarted in their careers. That's what happens if they're made to choose between having children and having a career. Belgium has excellent child-care provisions -- and is among the countries with the lowest wage differentials between men and women in the European Union. Germany is at the other end of the scale. Silent reserves of qualified women could be used here."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"The outcome of the (German) feminist struggle of the past 40 years has been disastrous. Nowhere in Europe, apart from Cyprus and Estonia, are women paid so much less than men as in Germany. The central demand of the early women's movement -- equal pay for equal work -- is far from being achieved in this country.

"How could this happen in a country with a feminist movement that holds itself in such high regard? The truth is that its idea didn't grip the masses because it didn't address the core, the material basis of emancipation. It remained a largely egocentric, ultimately self-satisfied and holier-than-thou movement."

The center-left Tagesspiegel writes:

"The wage gap is 22 percent, and employers see 'objective reasons' for it. They're duty-bound to interpret it that way because citing subjective reasons would provoke court cases. In fact many of the objective-sounding arguments are blatantly cynical. Women look after children more than men do and they have to interrupt their careers when they become pregnant. So it's easy to give them a guilty conscience for such absences from work and to put a ceiling on their pay as a result.

"But this method of social selection won't work much longer. Demographic change is forcing companies to see women not as a cyclical reserve army of labor but as essential employees."

-- David Crossland, 11.30 a.m. CET

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