European Commission statistics show that Irish women earn, on average, 13.9 per cent less than men. The average across the EU is 16 per cent.
There are around 975,000 women currently active in Ireland’s labour market. Of these, over 500,000 have children meaning they have caring responsibilities.
Despite the pay gap, the situation for Irish working women has improved radically since Ireland joined the then EEC in 1973.
More women can now access the labour market, thanks to the abolition of the marriage bar for women in public service jobs and stronger equality legislation from the EU.
Back in 1961 the population of Ireland was 2.8 million and women accounted for just 26.4 per cent of the workforce. By the time we joined the European Community in 1973, there were 287,800 Irish women in employment out of a total labour force of 1,132,000, representing 25.4 per cent of the total workforce.
In the years following accession the figures began to improve rapidly. In 1987 the employment rate for women of working age was 35 per cent and by the following decade it was up to 42 per cent. The EU average the same year, 1997, was 51.1 per cent.
The EU set a target rate for female employment of 60 per cent by 2010, and Ireland had exceeded that figure by 2007. By 2008 there were 921,600 women in employment in Ireland (compared to 1,186,900 men) with an employment rate of 60.5 per cent.
However, during the economic crisis the figure dropped significantly and had fallen to 56 per cent by 2011. The rate for the European Union as a whole was 62.4 per cent in 2012.
Although the situation for women in employment is improving, inequalities remain. In some cases women suffer direct discrimination where they’re simply treated less favourably than men. Or they may be treated unfairly due to a policy or practice that’s not designed to discriminate, but still results in unequal treatment.
However, it’s worth remembering that any discrimination, regardless of whether it’s deliberate or not, is banned under EU law.