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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 statutory social security.

The principle of equal treatment between men and women enshrined by the directive protects European citizens against discrimination on grounds of sex, whether direct or indirect, as regards:

  • the scope of statutory schemes and the conditions of access thereto;
  • the obligation to contribute and the calculation of contributions;
  • the calculation of benefits and the conditions governing the duration and retention of entitlement to benefit.

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

  • sickness;
  • invalidity;
  • old age;
  • accidents at work and occupational diseases;
  • unemployment.

The Directive also applies to social assistance in so far as it is intended to supplement or replace the schemes covering social risks mentioned above.

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 statutory social pensions and statutory unemployment benefits.

The material scope of the directive is limited by exclusions (in relation to survivor's benefits and family benefits) and derogations (in particular in relation to the determination of retirement age for the purposes of granting old-age pensions as well as advantages in respect of old-age schemes granted to persons who brought up children). The Directive also allows for the adoption of specific provisions in order to ensure the protection of pregnant women.

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 2006/54/EC implements the principle of equal treatment for men and women in occupational social security schemes (except for contributions paid by workers on a voluntary basis).

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

  • sickness;
  • invalidity;
  • old age, including early retirement
  • 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 be no sex discrimination regarding:

  • the conditions of access to these schemes;
  • the obligation to contribute;
  • the calculation of the contributions;
  • the calculation of benefits;

However, an exception is provided to the application of the unisex rule for the setting up of levels of benefits if it is justified to take account of actuarial calculation factors which differ according to the sex.

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: Directive 2006/54/EC on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation (recast)