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Pay equity through collective bargaining: when voluntary state feminism meets selective business practice

French Politics Aims and scope


The article traces the story of equal pay policy formation from the early 1980s to the present, from agenda-setting to policy adoption through to implementation, evaluation and outcomes. Until 2010, equal pay policy was implemented through collective bargaining at company and sector levels within a legal framework that failed to establish penalties for non-compliance. Persistent mobilization of feminist actors inside and outside of government contributed to breaking with this symbolic policy. A financial penalty for non-compliant companies was established. The article shows that the strengthening of the existing framework was not sufficient to counter the reluctance of companies to make a solid commitment to closing the gender pay gap, and the outcome appears to be a clear case of “gender accommodation” in GEPP terms. However, recent feminist mobilization around more effective implementation on equal pay suggests that the struggle for more authoritative equal pay policies in the firm is still on the policy agenda.

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  1. Studies of the Roudy law and other equal employment policies have identified the highly «symbolic» imperative of these reforms. That is, that governments of the right and the left have adopted a series of laws and policies implemented through collective bargaining and labor relations at the firm level with no teeth; as a result, few actors actually mobilize around them and sex-based inequalities continue (e.g., Mazur 1995; Laufer 2018).

  2. The (unadjusted) gender gap in hourly wages estimated by Eurostat in the early 2000s placed France slightly below the European average, due in particular to the overrepresentation of women workers in industries and occupations that offer low rewards for comparable levels of qualification and their more frequent employment on temporary contracts (Boll et al 2017). Analyses of average overall income (annual or monthly) also highlighted the incidence of part-time work, which, although less pronounced in France than in other European countries (e.g., Germany and Austria), remained a major factor in wage inequality between women and men (Ponthieux and Meurs 2004).

  3. Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of July 5, 2006, on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation.

  4. This report is a detailed gender audit with specific gendered breakdowns of workforce composition by occupation, type of contract, working time arrangements, family-related and other types of leave, access to training, working conditions, pay scales and bonuses and average time between promotions.

  5. A reservation formally states that an agreement was made without any consideration of firm-level reports of women’s and men’s status and failed to make any mention of gender equality issues.

  6. Délégation aux droits des Femmes, Rapport d’information no. 2243 sur le projet de loi égalité salariale de 2006, Assemblée nationale, 12 avril 2005.

  7. Wage agreements may only be accepted by the labor administration if they are accompanied by a report certifying that the employer has opened negotiations, seriously and fairly, on the reduction of pay gaps (Article L. 2242-7 of the Labor Code).

  8. The example of a monitoring campaign in March 2008 on professional and wage equality by the labor inspectorate of 1000 companies is very emblematic: at the end, only 415 inspections were carried out in 14 months (41%) with strong regional variations (Grésy 2009).

  9. Which since 2006 had allowed labor inspectors to ask that after maternity leave, women receive an annual mean wage increase (including bonus) similar to their colleagues with the same level of job (socioeconomic group) in the company.

  10. Loi no. 2009-526 de simplification et de clarification du droit et d'allégement des procédures du 12 mai 2009; the report must simply be made available to the administrative authority 15 days after consultation with employee representatives.

  11. Particularly the Collectif National pour le Droit des Femmes (National Collective for Women’s Rights) and Osez Le Féminisme (Dare to Be Feminist).

  12. Délégation aux droits des femmes de l’Assemblée nationale, Rapport d’information no. 3621 sur l’application des lois sur l’égalité professionnelle au sein des entreprises, July 2011, p. 88.

  13. Délégation aux droits des femmes de l’Assemblée nationale, Rapport d’information no. 3621 sur l’application des lois sur l’égalité professionnelle au sein des entreprises, July 2011, p. 14.

  14. Décret du 7 juillet 2011 relatif à la mise en œuvre des obligations des entreprises pour l'égalité professionnelle entre les femmes et les hommes (no. 2011-822).

  15. Loi du 26 octobre 2012 portant création des emplois d'avenir (no. 2012-1189), article 6.

  16. Hiring, training, promotion, qualification, classification, work conditions and work–family balance.

  17. Thanks to a new law on discriminations voted in 2001, individual employees, supported by lawyers and/or trade unions, could sue a case based on individual comparisons of salary progression with colleagues in the same company; burden on the employer to demonstrate that it did not discriminate. French trade unions have supported and won many cases around union bullying and victimization that created jurisprudence (the panel method), a dynamic comparative methodology to “prove” discrimination. This method have been expanded to trials on discrimination due to gender or maternity/family status, and validated as a legal tool by the Haute Autorité de Lutte contre les Discriminations et pour l’Egalité (Halde) in 2007.


  19. In France, 40% of employees are working in companies with less than 50 employees. Source: Ministry of Labor.




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Correspondence to Delphine Brochard.

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Brochard, D., Charpenel, M. & Pochic, S. Pay equity through collective bargaining: when voluntary state feminism meets selective business practice. Fr Polit 18, 93–110 (2020).

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