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Social security and pensions

Statutory social security

EU law (Directive 79/7/EEC) aims to ensure that women and men are treated equally in the area of social security.

The directive applies to statutory social security schemes which provide protection against the risks of:

  • sickness;
  • invalidity;
  • old age (i.e. pensions);
  • accidents at work;
  • occupational diseases;
  • unemployment.

The directive applies to the working population - including self-employed persons, workers and self-employed persons whose activity is interrupted by illness, accident or involuntary unemployment and persons seeking employment - and to retired or invalid workers and self-employed persons. In practice, the key areas covered are state pensions and state unemployment benefits.

The practical impact of the directive is severely limited by wide exclusions including:

  • survivor's benefits;
  • family benefits;
  • retirement pensions;
  • childcare benefits;
  • wives' derived entitlements;
  • benefits for dependent wives;
  • optional rights in schemes.

Since 1981, there have been over 40 preliminary references from national courts to the European Court of Justice on how to interpret the directive. The European Commission has brought only one case against a member country for failure to transpose the directive correctly (C-229/89 Commission v Belgium - the Court ruled in Belgium's favour).

Full text: Council Directive 79/7/EEC of 19 December 1978 on the progressive implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women in matters of social security

Occupational social security schemes

The Directive 96/97/EC implements the principle of equal treatment for men and women in occupational social security schemes for all the working population, including:

  • self-employed workers;
  • workers whose activity is interrupted (by illness, maternity, accident or involuntary unemployment);
  • people seeking employment;
  • retired and disabled workers and their beneficiaries.

The directive applies to occupational schemes protecting against the risks of:

  • sickness;
  • invalidity;
  • old age;
  • industrial accidents;
  • occupational diseases;
  • unemployment.

It also covers occupational schemes providing for other social benefits, such as survivor's benefit and family allowances if intended for employed people.

Under the directive, there may no sex discrimination regarding:

  • the conditions of access to these schemes;
  • the obligation to contribute;
  • the calculation of the contributions;
  • the calculation of benefits;
  • the conditions governing the duration and retention of entitlement to benefits.

The following practices contravene the directive:

  • determining who may participate in an occupational scheme or setting different conditions for men and women;
  • laying down different rules on the age of entry into the scheme or the minimum period of employment or membership of the scheme required to obtain benefit, or different retirement ages;
  • laying down different rules on reimbursement, grant or restriction of contributions and benefits;
  • suspending the retention or acquisition of rights during maternity leave or leave for family reasons which are granted by law or agreement and paid by the employer;
  • using different standards or standards applicable only to workers of a specified gender.

Full text: Council Directive 96/97/EC of 20 December 1996 amending Directive 86/378/EEC on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women in occupational social security schemes

The original directive has been recast (2009) in a consolidated directive that includes certain other aspects of EU law in the area of gender equality.

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