By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Companies employing at least 250 people in the European Union will have to start providing data on gender pay gaps under a proposal by the bloc's executive that comes as studies suggest the COVID-19 pandemic has hit female workers more than men.
Women make on average 14% less in the 27-nation EU, meaning they end up working almost two months for free every year compared with men, according to bloc's executive.
The gender pay gap differs from 1.4% in Luxembourg to 21.8% in Estonia, according to the European Commission, which is due to unveil on Thursday legislation to boost pay transparency to help narrow the gap.
It would introduce for the first time an obligation across the EU to report on pay disparities between female and male workers, according to a draft seen by Reuters in advance of publication.
It would give workers applying for jobs and those already in employment the right to demand information on expected pay and on how their individual pay compares with that of others. It would allow fines for companies violating the right to equal remuneration.
With more caring responsibilities, women tend to have more career breaks and work fewer hours. Combined with pay discrimination, that leads to a 30% pension gap, EU data shows.
As the gender pay gap has only narrowed marginally since 2014, most recent studies have sounded alarm that the coronavirus pandemic has deepened labour market inequality.
Women were more affected by job losses as the pandemic hit the retail, travel and leisure sectors, according to LinkedIn.
"Women's jobs are more vulnerable and prone to economic shocks and business disruption than men's ... This labour market vulnerability has set back progress made toward gender equality in the workplace," said the Microsoft's professional networking site.
A February report by EU agency Eurofound had similar findings: "The first impacts of the pandemic have fallen disproportionately on low-paid female workers," Eurofound said.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)