Investigative journalist Birte Meier
Photo: Svea Pietschmann / ZDF
»Gender Pay Gap«, that sounds so technical and newfangled.
What the term describes is very simple, and it has been the case for a long time: very often women get less money than their male colleagues for the same job and with the same qualifications.
How big the difference is often remains unclear - one doesn't talk about money.
This should become easier with the Entgelttransparenzgesetz.
The case of investigative journalist Birte Meier shows how difficult it remains in everyday life.
As early as 2015, she researched that as a reporter for the unveiling program "Frontal 21" she earned significantly less than her male colleagues.
Since the Fee Transparency Act came into force in mid-2017, it has been trying to enforce its rights in this way.
Now, four years later, it is a good step further.
It is possible that the Federal Constitutional Court will deal with your case soon.
And Meier has got the station so far that he pushes out the comparative values.
They are depressing: the average salary of comparable men in the editorial office, the so-called median value, is 800 euros gross above their salary - every month.
The men also receive performance bonuses, the women do not.
In addition, Meier is classified differently in the tariff tier system, so that it only rises later.
FAQ of the Fee Transparency Act
Where does the Pay Transparency Act apply? Expand
In companies with at least 200 employees.
There must also be at least six colleagues of the opposite sex who have a job similar to that of the applicant.
The Ministry of Family Affairs explains in a guide what can be regarded as the same or equivalent activity.
Such work is carried out by colleagues who could replace each other within the company.
A nurse is therefore not allowed to inquire about the salaries of the chief physicians.
How exactly does the right to information work?
Employees write to the works council or the employer.
Both inform each other when they have received a request for information.
The works council can, however, forward the request anonymously to the HR department - the employer does not need to know who made the request.
In their application, employees must indicate which comparison group they refer to.
Forms for this are available online from the Ministry of Family Affairs.
What does the employer have to reveal - and what not?
Even with the new law, nobody has a right to know the salary of a particular employee.
Instead, the employer must give an average of the salary of all colleagues with a comparable job.
In addition, the applicant has a right to know the exact criteria for his salary.
Even larger companies with 500 or more employees must also check their salary structures themselves and report on them regularly.
What if someone actually earns less than colleagues? Expand
It is possible that a salary adjustment will be made for those who earn less.
But first of all, nothing has to happen, at least not according to the law: It only contains the right to information, but no right to adjustment.
Anyone who does not shy away from going to court can sue, for example on the basis of the General Equal Treatment Act.
This was announced by the Society for Freedom Rights (GFF), which supports Birte Meier's complaint in court.
If you summarize all of this, the difference is said to have even moved around 1200 euros in 2018, and around 1500 euros in 2019.
»The information not only corroborates the suspicion of discrimination, but also shows that the plaintiff is losing up to 18,000 euros annually - that is a very substantial amount of money.
That explains why the broadcaster has so far fought against the obligation to provide information, «says Nora Markard from the GFF.
»No entitlement to family allowance«
In a statement to SPIEGEL, ZDF emphasizes that it strictly adheres to collective bargaining regulations.
Only a fraction of the employees in Berlin with whom Meier has been compared receive the performance bonuses;
there are both “colleagues who earn more than Ms. Meier”, but also those “who earn about the same or less than Ms. Meier”.
The fact that she has not been in the service of ZDF as long as many of her colleagues at "Frontal 21" also play a role in the tariff classification.
The broadcaster does not comment on the sums mentioned.
Another reason for the differences is that all salary components have to be taken into account in the information.
This includes, for example, a family allowance to which Meier is not entitled.
The GFF points out that the performance bonuses for colleagues also amount to up to 1450 euros per year. In the first letter of information, the personnel manager would have kept this post a secret. It is difficult for outsiders to judge the mechanism behind the allowances: what service would have had to be provided in order to benefit from them? Meier has been recognized for several "Frontal 21" contributions.
In order to get the salary information at all, Meier had to invest a lot of time in legal proceedings. The ZDF initially blocked any information, was given a right before the Berlin labor court, then before the state labor court: Meier, as a so-called permanent freelancer, is not an employee, but only employed similarly to an employee - and therefore has no claim to the information. Nor is their gender the reason for the differences in remuneration. The editor did not want to accept that - and went to the next instance, the Federal Labor Court.
The fact that she has now received the salary report is due to the fact that she was successful there: She can also refer to the ETG as a “permanent freelancer”.
(Judgment of June 25, 2020 - 8 AZR 145/19 - lower instance: Landesarbeitsgericht Berlin-Brandenburg, judgment of February 5, 2019 - 16 Sa 983/18).
That was actually new, because the law was originally intended for employees in larger companies who want to find out whether they are being discriminated against when it comes to money.
Permanent freelancers are often found in journalism: They are not permanently employed by their medium, but formally self-employed, but regularly and frequently work on assignments for the same employer.
The Federal Labor Court ruled that the terms "employee" and "employee" used in the law should be interpreted broadly, so that permanent freelancers also belong to them.
Smarter than before - but what do you get out of it?
With her stage win, Meier is now faced with a question that the Pay Transparency Act does not conclusively answer: When you finally have the differences in black and white - what do you do then?
After all, there is no automatic mechanism that ensures that the higher salary of the colleagues now also applies to the applicant.
And: there are no sanctions for companies.
However, a ruling from January strengthened the rights of workers - the same applies to men, even if they are discriminated against. If a salary report proves that wage inequalities exist, then the employees no longer have to prove that there is actually discrimination. It is the company that has to prove that it has good reasons for the different salaries.
Will all of this help Birte Meier?
And maybe other employees who are following a similar path?
That has not yet been agreed.
She had also sued the Berlin State Labor Court for payment that corresponded to that of her colleagues and had failed.
The court did not allow an appeal.
Meiers and the GFF have filed a complaint against this with the Federal Constitutional Court: The case violates European law, the question should have been submitted to the ECJ.
In the meantime, the Constitutional Court has sent the complaint to the ZDF and the Federal Labor Court, which the GFF regards as a “good sign” that the complaint is actually being negotiated.
But that's not official yet.
So at the moment we can only say: The Entgelttransparenzgesetz has been in place for a few years now.
But that doesn't mean you can easily tell if you're getting paid fairly.
Nor does it mean that unequal pay is easy to correct.
Perhaps when Meier's ongoing proceedings are completed, this will improve as a precedent.
If she were to get justice before the Federal Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice, the ZDF would actually have to explain the difference in salaries, a correction would be conceivable.
But it's not that far yet.
By the way, Meier no longer works in the Berlin editorial team of "Frontal 21", but in Mainz for the ZDF Info department.
Your old position has been filled by a man.