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Why these women say wage transparency is not enough

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Why these women say wage transparency is not enough
A campaigner from the German Trade Union Conferedation (DGB) in Berlin in March 2016 with a poster reading "Equal Pay - We can do it!". Photo: DPA
16:10 CEST+02:00
Women spoken to by The Local on Wednesday said that while government plans to allow women to compare their salaries against peers were a good start, more still needs to be done.

Families Minister Manuela Schwesig wants to end work conditions where women earn, on average, 21 percent less than their male peers.

That's a figure the Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician, who also pushed for controversial “women quotas” on big company boards, has wanted to abolish for almost three years.

Under SPD plans, employers will be required to show employees the average salary of people doing similar jobs so that they can check if they are underpaid.

The law will only apply to companies with more than 500 workers.

Opponents say that the bill will burden business with extra regulation and potentially invade the privacy of employees.

But what do women working in Germany think of the plans?

“It's a good first step that will help educate people about the realities of salaried work,” Sabine Blochberger, a self-employed computer scientist in Bavaria, told The Local.

“I don't quite get the reluctance to discuss salaries... within a company, I don't think they should be a privacy matter.”

"Is salary really sensitive personal data, like the personal information women are constantly asked for in interviews?" asked Anna Costalonga, a web developer in Leipzig.

She noted that women are often asked if they are married or have or plan to have children when applying for jobs.

Berlin-based network engineer Alexandra Salvaterra told The Local that she'd like to see “mandatory open wages in companies – no ban on talking wages any more.”

A woman welder pictured during shooting of a documentary on women in the workplace. Photo: ARD/DPA

All three agreed that limiting the rule to large companies would put a serious crimp in the law's impact.

“Big companies are already more aware of discrimination,” Blochberger said. “The visible outcome might not be as dramatic” as if the law applied to all businesses.

“I would prefer to see it for all companies,” Salvaterra agreed. “I see no reason why a smaller company should be allowed to pay a man more.”

"The greatest discriminations happen more easily in smaller companies - in larger ones, hiring and job processes are more subject to regular auditing," said Costalonga.

What more should Germany do?

Germany ought to “make discussion about equality part of school education,” Blochberger said. “Social issues get too little attention.”

Costalonga agreed that women should be better informed about ways they can be discriminated against - and successfully defend themselves - in the job market.

Other women spoken to by The Local reported deeper problems.

“The problem lies in how difficult it still is for a woman of child-bearing age to get a job and keep it,” said Verena Mustermann*, a Cologne-based PR professional.

“I've been asked in interviews if I plan to get pregnant, been asked not to re-up contracts twice once I was pregnant, and am kept on a freelance basis with every contract,” she went on, adding that her experience in Germany had been much worse than anything in ten years of working in the USA.

“If the SPD wants to tackle the imbalance, they first have to work on getting women into the workforce and give them equal career opportunities... then they can talk money,” Mustermann said.

But Costalonga said that Germany compared favourably with her native Italy.

In job interviews in the Federal Republic, she said, "no-one ever dreamed of asking if I was married or how old I was." 

"The norm in Italy is just the contrary: you are always asked your age and your marital status, or even worse, if you plan to have children."

*The name has been changed as the interviewee asked to remain anonymous

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