How is Europe tackling the gender pay gap?

Yesterday I wrote an article for Labour List, which set out what the European Union is doing to tackle the gender pay gap. It is recognised that from the start of this week until December 31 women effectively work for free due to pay inequalities between men and women.

You can read my article in full below.

It could not be more apparent (or obvious) that there is a gender pay gap in existence. A recent calculation carried out by the Fawcett Society found that from the start of this week until the end of the year women will effectively work for free. It was a contentious revelation with some denouncing the very idea as preposterous. But the Fawcett Society calculation does illustrate the issue of the gender pay gap which at the end of 2015, shockingly, remains unresolved.

As a Labour representative in Europe and Labour’s spokesperson in Europe for gender and equality I have worked for a long time to address the issue of gender and pay. Equality between men and women is a fundamental value which lays the foundations of the European Union. The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the EU treaties, and the European Parliament takes the issue of a gender pay gap increasingly seriously.

However, the reality is that we are a long way from achieving any form of parity. The average hourly wage for women in Europe is 16.3% lower than it is for men. This equates to women working for free for 59 days each year.

One of the most notable moves by the European Union was to introduce for the first time a dedicated Commissioner for women, at the start of the current mandate last year Commissioner Vera Jourova the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality is also taking the issue seriously. She stated in a speech earlier this month that urgent action was needed to tackle pay inequalities.

Meanwhile a consultation undertaken by the European Commission, the results of which were published in November, found that equality between men and women and the gender pay gap was the most urgent inequality that the European Union must address. Commissioner Jourova is clearly concerned and in response to this said: “At the current pace, the gender pay gap is declining so slowly that we will need to wait another 70 years to achieve equal pay – that’s not one generation, but two”.

There is support across the Commission for the issue, and Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission declared in a speech delivered in New York in September: “I am a feminist.” He said to the audience: “We tend to think of gender progress as a straight line. Some countries are lagging behind, but everyone’s moving in the right direction. In the end we’ll all get there. It’s a natural evolution – it’s happening by itself. Well, it’s not.”

Not only is a gender pay gap unjustified and unacceptable but the consequences are life long. The cumulative effect of the pay gap means women’s pensions are affected with calculations suggesting that women’s pensions are 39% less than men’s. Women need to have equal access to the workplace for as long as men in order to close the pension pay gap. This can be achieved by providing opportunities for women to enjoy their careers for the same length of time as men. We should be able to reach a situation where, if women choose, they are not forced to leave the labour market for lengthy periods in order to be the primary carers. This means encouraging men to take on their share of familial responsibilities, among other measures.

The Commission is seeking to address this very issue. In August it introduced a road map, known as New Start to Address the Challenges of Work-life Balance Faced by Working Families; it hopes to identify ways to combat the low participation of women in the labour market.

As well as looking at low participation of women in the labour market, the ‘new start’ initiative seeks to find ways to help parents or those with dependent relatives to find a better balance between their caring and professional responsibilities.

The programme will also seek to tackle the issue of affordable childcare and rigid working arrangements as well as the absence of incentives for men to take on more childcare responsibilities.

It’s not just a cultural shift required, legislatively there is also work which needs to be done. While legislation does exist which is meant to protect women in areas of un-equal pay there are problems with it being outdated and also concerns that its poor implementation and lack of thorough enforcement by member state governments has rendered it obsolete.

Earlier this year the European Parliament voted to adopt a report which examined the implementation of the EU Directive on equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in employment. The report found that the existing legislation had ‘reached its limits’ and stressed the urgent need for it to be updated.

The report also searched ways to overcome the problem of unequal pay and identified wage transparency as one effective tool to combat this. Mandatory wage transparency would also arm existing employees with knowledge concerning their own pay and benefits package but also provide the basis of evidence for victims who are seeking to initiate discrimination cases.

The report also recommended that there could be a complete overhaul of the existing directive. Such a move could include the introduction of things such as wage transparency and wage audits. It could also include other specific measures such as changing the burden of proof principle in cases where there are claims of alleged sex discrimination.

It is shocking that despite more than 40 years of legislation that the existence of a gender pay gap is so prominent and so obvious.

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My interview on Radio 5: Listen again

I was invited to debate Britain’s future in Europe yesterday (Sunday 8 November) on Radio 5 Live. I outlined why it would be a disaster if the UK voted to leave and the benefits of staying.

I also stated that no single institution is perfect and so some reform is needed. One such reform I would like to see is to stop the European Parliament meeting in two places.  We meet in both Brussels and Strasbourg which is very expensive and very wasteful.

You can listen to the broadcast again here:  .


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Guest Blog – A Refugee Just Like You or Me by Angela Gorman



Angela Gorman sings in a choir in South London. One of her fellow choir members talked to Angela about the work they were doing in Greece to help migrants. Inspired by her friends’ work with Kos Solidarity Angela took a week’s annual leave to go and help. I am proud to have the opportunity to publish Angela’s observations on her life changing week. Here is her blog:


I felt that I needed to write about my recent life changing experience. I spent one week ( that felt like a month) volunteering for Kos Solidarity on the Greek island of Kos, very close to the Turkish coast.

I will never forget seeing people of all ages, arriving at our volunteer station near the harbour at night, shivering and in shock, with only the street lights to help us to see them and let them breathe out when they realised we were there to help. We gave them dry clothes, blankets, water and biscuits. There were children to help change to dry clothes, because the parents hands were too cold to work properly. There was wet hair to dry, cuts to tend to and little by way of rest places, only the concrete curb on which we would lay a blanket, if we had them to spare.

Because of another charitable effort, we were able to place most families in a local hotel, and if they were without means, that would be free of charge with free meals for a couple of days. So I got to meet several families and help them in different ways.

The Syrian father Hassan, travelling only with his 3yr old daughter. I noticed that she was very shy, and unlike the other children, she would not make eye contact for long, and would not smile. I’m not trained in counselling anyone, let alone children that have come from a warzone. It was so sad to see her like that. Hassan told me she missed her mother and brothers who were back in Syria, and that she couldn’t sleep well. Thankfully, the next day when I led a walking convoy of around 20 adults and 10 children from the hotel to the old town square for a clown show, they both came along. During the show, we both saw his daughter smile, a big genuine smile. And in his broken English, Hassan told me that was her first smile in 8 weeks.

An Iranian couple and their daughter were so grateful for my help, they invited me to join them for a bit of food. We ‘talked’ using google translate, about their lives. He an Electrician and she a Beautician with a degree in architecture! They had to leave their home, car, jobs because the husband was a Christian, and was at risk of being hung. How odd that the enormity of this knowledge was then contrasted by playing some Michael Jackson videos on YouTube and seeing their faces light up as they’d never seen these and rarely heard the music. The wife danced with me….there was joy in the room ! I’ll be keeping in touch with them.

I helped another couple by taking their sickly baby to the local hospital one evening, when the tent with MSF Doctors was no longer open. The hospital of an evening in Kos town was severely understaffed, with one Doctor seeing her way through the crowed corridor of patients. Eventually, with some insistence, I got them to assess the baby and all ended up fine. Again, a very polite and unassuming family, just wanting safety and a better future for themselves.

There was a young man from Syria, staring out over the sea one day. I asked if he was ok to discover he spoke English well. He had left Syria to live in Lebanon 5 years earlier and told me all his family were in Syria but he could not return. I knew this meant he would be killed if he did. Perhaps he had been active in opposition to Assad ? He missed his family terribly. I found myself trying to give him reassurance that he could build a good life and that his family would be proud of him.

Every refugee I met had the same human emotions as you and me, hopes and fears, joy and pain. But they had seen and felt so much horror and pain, and were grateful to be alive and safe.

How long can this continue where heartless people smugglers are profiting from this desperation to leave war zones and oppression ? How many people like you and me should die or suffer unnecessarily?


Discarded dinghies in Kos harbour which have up to 60 people crammed into them by smugglers.



Refugee children have some moments of joy watching volunteer clowns from Sweden.

Tents Donated tents line the edge of Kos Harbour to house refugees.


Angela Gorman blogs at where you can find more photographs

Details of the charity Angela worked with Kos Solidarity can be found here


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Appearance on BBC Daily Politics

I appeared on the BBC’s Daily Politics last week (Friday) where I discussed the refugee crisis, the election in Portugal and the end to mobile phone roaming charges among other matters.

You can view some clips of the interview here:



and the second part here:


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The EU continues to lead on combatting trafficking in human beings

Last week, we marked the Ninth EU Anti-trafficking day. The EU has been leading efforts to address trafficking in human beings. The 2011 EU anti-trafficking directive is based on a comprehensive, victim-centred and gendered approach and has transformed our capacity to work towards the eradication of all human trafficking.

MEPs will soon begin drafting a report on the implementation of this directive. I will be leading on this for the Socialists and Democrats group, which Labour MEPs are part of. We need to look in particular at the protection this directive has offered women and decide what further action needs to be taken.

Trafficking in human beings is a gender issue. The most robust data we have available suggests that at least 80% of victims of trafficking are women. Of these, the vast majority are trafficked for sexual exploitation and prostitution.

This is why we need our prevention approach to be based on demand reduction. In some member states, it is not a criminal offence to knowingly pay for the services of a victim of trafficking – whether it is sexual or labour exploitation. This area of the law needs to be addressed urgently. In other areas of law, we punish those involved in criminal activities. What kind of a message are we sending if we do not hold those responsible to account?

Another important element is the issue of transparency in supply chains. From this month, commercial organisations with a turnover of £36 million or more carrying on business in the UK will have to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement every financial year. This outlines the steps they have taken to ensure their business and supply chains are slavery free and will have to be published on the organisation’s website. Failure to comply can lead to an injunction. This is a step in the right direction but we need to make sure the strongest possible law is in place.

Voters in the UK will soon be deciding on their place within Europe and the wider world. As an active member of the EU, we are able to work together with our allies to share knowledge on the ever-changing tactics employed by traffickers. Only by working together can we develop Europe-wide data to understand flows and trends in trafficking and pull resources to identify and prosecute these cross-border criminal networks.

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Trailblazing Women Recognised at 60th Women of the Year Awards

Now in its 60th year, the Women of the Year awards recognised the outstanding achievements of several tenacious and courageous women at this year’s awards.

The judging panel said the award winners were selected because of “their perseverance and courage in the face of some of the most serious issues facing women today.”

The winners included Cokie van der Velde, a water sanitation expert and aid worker for the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, who spent time in Liberia helping to combat Ebola by ensuring safe water was provided to affected communities.

And an astrophysicist was recognised with a lifetime achievement award for her ‘remarkable contribution to science.’

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, received her award at the event after it was revealed her male colleagues were awarded a Nobel Prize for their work but she was excluded. A true trailblazer, the scientist was also recognised for breaking a number of glass ceilings. She was one of the first women to study science at Cambridge. She was the first president of the Institute of Physics and in 2014 was the first woman to be appointed as president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

It’s fascinating to learn of the extraordinary work these women do. They are trailblazers who without even realising it are cracking the glass ceiling bit by bit while focussing on making the world a better, healthier and safer place. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners.

The list of winners at the 2015 awards were:
• Cokie van der Velde, Barclays Women of the Year Award winner
• Kristin Hallenga, DFS Women of the Year Award winner – Outstanding Young Campaigner
• Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Prudential Women of the Year Award winner – Lifetime Achievement
• Jayne Senior, Good Housekeeping Women of the Year Award winner – Outstanding Achievement
• Dame Stephanie Shirley, Women of the Year Special Award
• Pat Rogers ITV’s Lorraine Inspirational Woman of the Year Award winner – chosen by the ITV Lorraine viewers

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What Jennifer Lawrence’s essay on the gender pay gap tells us about negotiation

Last week the actress Jennifer Lawrence provided us with one of the best examples of why pay transparency is essential. Her article published in Lenny Letter, the feminist newsletter launched by the actress Lena Dunham, revealed her feelings of the existence of a significant gender pay gap in Hollywood.

Lawrence was a victim of the notorious Sony hack in 2014 where extremely sensitive details of Hollywood stars pay, conditions and negotiations were leaked. The hack revealed that she and her female colleague, Amy Adams, were getting paid significantly less than her male co-stars.

Lawrence gave a compelling explanation why she felt she’d ‘failed’ to negotiate better conditions. Clearly she can’t be accused of failing at such negotiations. Rather it reveals how differently men and women approach such matters as negotiating fair pay. Lawrence said she didn’t wish to present herself as ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’.

Unsurprisingly such a thought didn’t cross the minds of her male counterparts all of whom secured significantly larger sums or money. Lawrence notes that rather than be accused of being a ‘spoiled brat’, as a different leaked email described a female producer, her male colleagues were likely to have been commended for being ‘fierce’ or ‘tactical’.

It was not until she saw the payroll following the Sony hack she realised that every man she was working with didn’t worry about being described in such a way.

Lawrence is a capable, talented and lauded actor (she is of course an academy award winner) so why exactly was she paid significantly less than her male colleagues? Her article reveals as much about ingrained chauvinism, not exclusive to the Hollywood hills by any means, as it does about the gender pay gap more generally.

It also illustrates that women and men negotiate in hugely different ways. In a perverse way senior executives are used to aggressive or robust demands, in fact most seem more at ease with such an approach. Conversely they are uncomfortable with a more considered or less confrontational style it would seem.

It is appalling that in 2015 a female actor is paid significantly less than her male counterpart for doing the same work.

The inadvertent revelation of Lawrence’s story has unearthed the huge gender inequality which still exists in the film industry, business and many other areas of employment. What more evidence of its existence do we need?

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