Gender pay gap is not just about money and Irish women deserve better – MEP Maria Walsh

Marking European Equal Pay Day on Wednesday, MEP Walsh said we cannot keep our citizens trapped in a cycle that continues to result in their inequality

The women of Ireland deserve better and calling for equal pay for women is about much more than money. That was the message delivered by MEP Maria Walsh when she addressed a Eurofound briefing in Brussels on Wednesday afternoon to mark European Equal Pay Day. MEP Walsh, who was the EPP negotiator on the Pay Transparency Directive, has fought hard for the introduction of binding pay-transparency measures over the last number of years. In March 2023, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in support of the Directive, but while major strides have been made, the Fine Gael MEP warned that there is a lot more work to be done in the fight towards equal pay.

“The simple fact is that Irish women deserve better. European Equal Pay Day is not just about picking a day, it represents so much more. November 15th is the day that women across Europe symbolically stopped getting paid for their work, compared to their male colleagues. Sometimes these dedicated days can feel like tokenism, but in this instance, we have a date where women stop earning money, and that is so undeniably important to mark,” she reasoned. 

Acknowledging improvements in Ireland and across Europe, MEP Walsh said progress remains slow, with the EU’s gender pay gap only decreasing by just under two percentage points over the last nine years. “We have a lot of work to do to ensure equal pay, and there are societal issues that run across many different policy areas. What we need is a dedicated horizontal approach and it is essential that we, as MEPs, continue to ensure our current policies are focused on equality,” she added. 

Stressing that equality stretches far beyond the money conversation, MEP Walsh said we cannot keep our citizens trapped in a cycle that continues to result in their inequality.
“Inequality can hinder lives, trap people in poverty and prevent our countries from harnessing the talents and potential of thousands of people. While we are making progress in policy-making that can affect real change on the ground in Ireland – and across Europe – we have to think laterally, across sectors and policy areas, to find holistic solutions,” she continued. 

As the EU Agency for the improvement of living and working conditions, Eurofound hosted an informal briefing and networking event with a small gathering of SMEs in Brussels on Wednesday afternoon. MEP Walsh was invited to address the meeting, and described the gender pay gap as “a phenomenally unfair and societally constructed issue”. She told the meeting that the right to equal pay for equal work had been a founding principle of the European Union since 1957, but said despite this, the principle of equal pay is not fully implemented and enforced, with the gender pay gap in the EU currently standing at approximately 12.7%.  

“There are a wealth of factors that contribute to the gender pay gap, including the fact that women often take on the ‘burden of care’ for family members. On average, women still do far more hours of unpaid work than men – such as childcare or housework – leaving less time for paid work. Almost one-third of women work part-time, compared to only 8% of men. When both unpaid and paid work are considered, women are working more hours per week, but are not being rewarded accordingly,” she said.

“When it comes to more structured employment, approximately 30% of the total gender pay gap can be explained by an overrepresentation of women in relatively low-paying sectors. Female managers are at the greatest disadvantage, earning 31% less per hour than male managers, across various sectors. They are also much more likely to have career breaks, particularly providing childcare for their own children. All these factors create the difference in overall earnings between men and women and it’s time we shouted stop. It’s time to end discrimination and to shatter the gender pay gap, for once and for all,” added MEP Walsh.