Discrimination at Work in Europe

Europe in general and EU Member States in particular have developed some of the broadest and most effective social policies against discrimination in the workplace and have accumulated much experience in addressing the practice. Nonetheless, research has revealed widespread discrimination exists in the labour market, primarily against immigrants and minorities. What’s more, traditional forms of discrimination based on gender, race, ethnic origin, religion and age still persist in the European workplace. Further compounding these issues are the newly emerging forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation, disabilities, genetics and lifestyle that challenge Europe’s ability to respond to these important workplace issues.

The data for 1995-2004 in the European Union (EU) confirm that women’s participation in the labour force, currently reaching 62%, and in paid employment, at 47.1%, has continued to rise significantly. More broadly speaking, this indicates a narrowing of the gender gap in labour force participation for women.

A key measure of women’s improvement in employment is the availability of good-quality jobs for women in legislative, senior official or managerial (LSOM) positions. Higher participation rates for women in LSOM jobs indicate a reduction of discriminatory barriers. Although women still represent a distinct minority in such positions throughout the world, holding only 28% of these senior jobs, there has been considerable progress. In the EU, women have increased their share of high-status positions over the past decade by 3.1% to current level of 30.6%. Given these advances, however, women in Europe still earn less than men. Throughout the EU, the difference in average gross hourly earnings between women and men has remained high at 15%. According to the European Commission, the difference in earnings levels
between men and women results from “non-respect of equal pay legislation and from a number of structural inequalities”.

Gender discrimination is also visible in other aspects of employment. In the United Kingdom, for example, a recent report by the Equal Opportunities Commission states that 30,000 women each year lose their jobs because of their pregnancy, and only 3% of those who experience a problem lodge a claim at an employment tribunal.

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