Women missing out on bonuses – New study

Posted by er134 at Jul 03, 2013 11:17 AM |
Sexism Still a Secret Scourge in EU, suggests new report

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 3 July 2013

Austerity measures and deepening economic crises across Europe are increasing cases of discrimination against women, a new study co-led by the University of Leicester has discovered.

Women are particularly missing out on bonuses and promotions, and discrimination based on prejudices and gender stereotypes is very much alive in EU countries, the researchers state.

The study found:

  • In some EU countries, women had to sign a ‘blank resignation’ at the time of appointment which would come into force if they fell pregnant
  • Health and safety requirements are used as an excuse to remove women from the workplace
  • Pregnancy and maternity are often the cause of non-renewal of fixed term contracts and/or project work
  • Women are subjected to ‘negative stereotyping’ in the workplace- ie they are seen to be carers for children and family first rather than workers with full employment rights
  • In some EU states, women of child-bearing age are simply not selected for a job

Eugenia Caracciolo di Torella, from the University of Leicester School of Law, has co-authored  the report for the European Commission “Fighting Discrimination on the Grounds of Pregnancy, Maternity and Parenthood: The application of EU and national law in practice in 33 European countries.” The report was written in association with A. Masselot from University of Canterbury, NZ and S. Burri from University of Utrecht.

Dr Caracciolo Di Torella said: “One of the most surprising factors has been to realise the negative impact role that gender stereotypes continues to play across Europe in the 21st century.

“This is particularly extreme in certain Member States such as Romania, where women in child-bearing years are simply not selected for a job or parents with prams are not welcomed into shops for fear of shoplifting.

“However, it seems also to apply to Member States where we generally think that gender equality is an uncontroversial state of play.  In Sweden, for example, it is the opinion of the Equality Ombudsman that “young women are systematically discriminated against.”

The report, published on the website of DG Justice http://ec.europa.eu/justice/gender-equality/document/index_en.htm#h2-9 and on EU Bookshop, aims to assist the Commission in its monitoring work, in particular by identifying gaps in the transposition of existing legislation at national level and highlight good practices.

The report looks at the position of working parents across the EU Member States with a view to highlighting gaps, as well good practices.  It shows that, on the whole, national statutory rights relating to the protection of pregnancy, maternity and parenthood in the workplace across Europe are of a reasonable standard.  Thus, the EU has successfully established a common ground and often domestic legal provisions go beyond the obligations set by the EU.

Dr Caracciolo di Torella  adds: “Yet, despite extensive legislation, pregnant employees and working parents continue to experience high levels of discrimination and difficulties. Whilst, on paper, the law exists and is comprehensive, in practice it is too often circumvented.

“This happens in various areas: for example, although it is direct discrimination not to employ a woman because she is pregnant or might intend to get pregnant in the near future, it is not always possible to monitor what happens during an interview.  Certain questions might be asked, and certain assumptions might be made:  there is evidence that discrimination based on prejudices and gender stereotypes is very much alive.

“Equally, although it has long been established that it is contrary to EU and domestic legislation to dismiss a woman because of her pregnancy or caring responsibilities, this continues to happen.  In some countries (Italy and Greece) women were asked to sign an undated resignation letter (so called “blank resignation) at the time of recruitment so as to be used by the employer to make the worker resign when needed (ie when pregnant).

“Another cause of discrimination is the health and safety requirements which, in practice, are often used as an excuse to remove woman from the workplace.  Pregnancy and maternity are often also the cause of non-renewal of fixed term contracts and/or project work.  This is not done expressly but the effect remains the same.

“The biggest area where discrimination takes place is that of pay and promotions.  Although the European Court of Justice has provided guidelines, women still miss out on bonuses.  In many Member States across Europe, employers are allowed to take periods of maternity/parental leave in order when calculate seniority and this means that individual (women) miss out on promotions.”

Dr Caracciolo Di Torella added: “Pregnancy and maternity and parental related discrimination has increased since the economic downturn and women have been particularly hard hit by the consequences of the crisis. Mothers are often being made redundant because they are unable to be, or become, flexible enough because they have care requirements to address as well as their paid employment.”

Dr Caracciolo di Torella calls for:

  • systematic monitoring (eg: systematically requiring the employer to justify the dismissal of employees who return from parental leave; following trend and statistics in  companies of who and when people are recruited and dismissed);
  • increase gender equality and fighting stereotypes, inter alia, by promoting the involvement of men in the care of young children;
  • automatic sanctions for offending employers.

She concludes: “Undoubtedly the key message is that having children is not a “selfish act” but a productive activity of society that should not be devalued.  We all (State, public/private companies and society as a whole) benefit from and free ride on the work done by parents and carers (who, to date, remain mostly women).

“Furthermore, discrimination on grounds of pregnancy and maternity are only symptoms of a broader issue, namely discrimination on grounds of caring responsibilities.” She argues that the concept of discrimination on grounds of caring responsibilities is lamentably lacking from the legal framework and for this purpose she is co-writing a book with Masselot on this point (Who Cares?, Routledge 2014)

The complete text of the report is available at http://ec.europa.eu/justice/gender-equality/files/your_rights/discrimination__pregnancy_maternity_parenthood_final.en.pdf



For more information contact Dr Caracciolo di Torella on: ecdt1@leicester.ac.uk

This report was commissioned by the European Commission December 2011 and was completed in February 2013.  The aim of the report is to assist the Commission (Unit D1, Equal Treatment Legislation, DG Justice) in its monitoring function by, in particular identifying gaps in the transposition of existing legislation at national level and highlighting good practices in relation to pregnancy, maternity and parental rights in employment and also in self employment and beyond in relation to the access of goods and services.  The work entailed designing a detailed questionnaire (ca. 7000 words) for 33 national legal experts in order to reveal the existing situation, gaps and good practices.  However, to identify gaps in the law, required looking for cases that have not been decided by courts or practices hidden from the law, which made the work more challenging than anticipated.  The experts have been in touch a number of by-legal bodies, including equality bodies, human rights commissions, trade unions etc.  The final report, written on the basis of the answers received, makes recommendations for further action.

The main authors of the report are S. Burri (University of Utrecht), E. Caracciolo di Torella (University of Leicester) and A. Masselot (University of Canterbury, NZ).

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