Tuesday

29th Nov 2022

Employers can pay men more than women, EU court says

The European Court of Justice has ruled that companies can pay male workers more on grounds of length of employment, even though natural childcare burdens limit the ability of many women to compete on the basis of time served.

The case was brought by UK health inspector Bernadette Cadman, who argued that domestic duties such as pregnancy and maternity leave often dictate the length of time women work - leading to diminished "seniority" - and called for employers to provide special justification for paying men more.

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But Europe's highest court on Tuesday (3 October) rejected her claim, stating that additional years of service allow for greater experience on the job which leads to improved work performance.

"Recourse to the criterion of length of service is appropriate to attain the legitimate objective of rewarding experience acquired which enables the worker to perform his duties better," the court stated in the ruling.

"Where a job classification system based on an evaluation of the work to be carried out is used in determining pay, there is no need to show that an individual worker has acquired experience during the relevant period, which has enabled him to perform his duties better," it said.

Ms Cadman had taken Britain's Health and Safety Executive to court when she realised that three of her male colleagues were paid up to €13,000 a year more than she was, even though they all held the same position.

She won the British case, but an appeals court subsequently referred the case to the Luxembourg-based European courts due to doubts over the implications of the ruling.

Leena Linnainmaa, president of the European Women Lawyers' Association, suggested that a solution to the problem would be that men take paternity leave, something most do not do even though they have the right to in most European countries.

"The fact that women take maternity leave is a great burden on their career," she said, not commenting on the case specifically.

"We strongly encourage men to take paternity leave and the countries that have no specific legislation on the right to paternity leave to amend their law," said Ms Linnainmaa, adding that more paternity leave would benefit both the families and the labour market.

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